Even though in the last half of the twentieth century, hundreds of thousands of Spanish abandoned their small towns or pueblos to find jobs in large metropolitan areas, they regularly return to the countryside on weekends and holidays. They visit close relatives, extended family and friends, and spend the days picnicking, hunting or fishing. Many Spaniards spend Autumn afternoons taking long walks in nearby meadows and forests to gather their favorite wild mushrooms.
Then, return to their kitchens to prepare the delicacy that they call setas.
Popular Wild Mushrooms in Spain
There are more than a dozen varieties of popular wild mushrooms in Spain, but we narrowed the list down to the top five.
- Boleto del Pino or Boletus - The scientific name is Boletus Pinicola or Boletus pinophilus, (although there are approximately 100 different Boletus mushrooms.) It is a highly prized mushroom that has a cap that is white to creamy brown color, with a round top and "fat" stem. The flesh is compact and has a sweet flavor.
- Níscalo - The scientific name is Lactarius deliciosus (Agaricus deliciosus). It is called Saffron milk cap, Red pine mushroom in English and does not grow in North America, according to Belgian mycologist Jorinde Nuytinck. This mushroom has an orange cap, convex in shape, and likes to grow in the acidic soil under pine trees.
- Seta de Cardo - The scientific name for this mushroom is Pleorotus eryngii (Pleorutus fuscus). It is considered one of the most delicious mushroom and is highly prized by mushroom aficionados. It only grows under a thistle plant, commonly called "field eryngo" in English (Eryngium campestre) or cardo corredor or cardo setero in Spain.
- Champiñón de Campo - The scientific name is Agaricus Bisporus (Agaricus hortensis). It has a thick white stem and round caps with rose tones. It is often seen growing in cow dung.
- Senderilla or Carreria This scientific name is Marasmus Oreades, (Collybia oreades). A small mushroom, it has a thin, almost spindly stem and cap that is flat and wide. It is popularly cooked with lamb, or mixed with eggs.
Note About Wild Mushrooms
According to the pamphlet entitled, Los Peligros de las Setas ("The Dangers of Wild Mushrooms") published by the Ministerio de Agricultura Pesca y Alimentacion (Spanish Ministry of Agriculture), the number of Spaniards collecting mushrooms in the countryside, as well as the number of mushroom societies or sociedades de micologia (the study of mushrooms) exploded in the 1980's.
Edible and poisonous mushrooms often grow side by side and are easily confused, even by experts. Many people mistakenly follow advice from their family and friends, (which amount to old wives tales) as to how to identify the edible ones. There are about 50 species of toxic mushrooms in Europe, and of those six or so are extremely poisonous. Don't risk it!
A wide variety of gourmet mushrooms, including the above varieties, are grown commercially in controlled environments and sold in supermarkets, ethnic and gourmet food markets in Europe and the USA.
For photos of mushroom varieties in Spain: