Foraging Fungi: Eagle hosts 11th Annual Eagle Mushroom and Wild Food Festival
The 11th Annual Eagle Mushroom and Wild Food Festival is taking place now through Sunday. Learn about the science, foraging and culinary art of mushrooms from experts across the state of Colorado.
This weekend, the town of Eagle is hosting the 11th Annual Eagle Mushroom and Wild Food Festival, a three-day event that is all about the science, foraging and culinary art of mushrooms. Fungi specialists, known as mycologists, will give presentations on the nutritional benefits and other scientific discoveries in the field, and will teach people how to identify and forage for edible mushrooms right in our backyard. Local chefs will then lead cooking classes that explore creative ways to incorporate mushrooms into delicious and nutritious meals.
The festival was founded by Tom Boni, the former town planner for Eagle. At the time, he was just starting to get into mushroom foraging, and decided to invite some of the more experienced mycologists he met to gather in Eagle and teach about their experiences.
“I was doing it in many ways for myself,” Boni said. “I was a beginner, and so I was learning as we went along. My idea was just to share my interest with people here in town.”
Learn from the experts
Now in its 11th year, the Eagle Mushroom Festival is bringing some of the state’s most prominent mycologists to speak and educate on the powers of these special fungi. The presentation schedule on Saturday morning at the Capitol Theater includes titles such as “Choice edible and medicinal plants and mushrooms of Colorado” by Telluride wild food specialist Katrina Blair, “Key features for the field identification of mushrooms” by the current president of the Colorado Mycological Society, Jon Sommer, and “Mushrooms and Human Health” by former physician turned mycologist, Dr. Ken Kassenbrock.
Kassenbrock decided to turn his passion for mushrooms into a second career after retiring as a physician. He taught mycology for a number of years at Colorado State University before retiring last year, and encourages people to try it for themselves.
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“Amateur mycology, where people just get excited about identifying wild mushrooms and eating wild mushrooms, is a lot like amateur astronomy, where people actually discover comets and things,” Kassenbrock said. “It’s a really interesting field in the sense that amateurs can make significant contributions.”
Kassenbrock will also be helping to lead a foraging expedition in the area. Mushrooms thrive in wet environments, and thanks to the heavy rainfall that we have been experiencing in the valley this summer, the mushroom population in our area is booming.
“It’s been an exceptional year everywhere that I’ve been,” Kassenbrock said. “Mushrooms just everywhere, like we haven’t seen in a decade, or as some people are saying, multiple decades.”
The most popular and prevalent foraging mushroom in Colorado is the King Bolete mushroom, a large, fleshy variety that is easy to identify and great for cooking. Kassenbrock expects Sunday’s foraging crew to come away with a very successful haul.
“People can just pick pounds and pounds of it in a good year,” Kassenbrock said. “And it’s absolutely wonderful, it’s revered all over the world and it can’t be cultivated. It only grows in forests, so you have to collect it from the wild, and in a good year Colorado is full of it.”
Delicious and nutritious
On Saturday afternoon, chef Brian Farquharson of Vail’s Red Canyon Catering and chef Katrina Blair of Telluride’s Turtle Lake Refuge will teach people how to prepare the mushrooms once they have them in hand. Each will demonstrate how to make a meal that uses mushrooms as a main ingredient.
Following the classes, Pickled. Kitchen + Pantry in Eagle will be hosting a cocktail event from 4:30-6 p.m. where people can mingle with the mycologists while sipping mushroom-inspired cocktails.
The main activity on Sunday is a full-day guided foraging trip into the forests of Eagle. Though the foraging event is already sold out, 7 Hermits Brewing Company will be hosting an evening celebration of the end of the festival, which will feature live music, a mushroom bar, a mushroom-flavored burger selection and drinks, including the Porcini Amber Ale that Bonfire Brewing Company has produced specially for the festival. The event will run from 4:30-6:30 p.m. and tickets are available online at eaglemushroomfest.com.
Those who cannot attend the festival events this weekend can still partake in the mushroom craze, as 7 Hermits Brewing Company and Bonfire Brewing will both be keeping their mushroom creations on menu for the next few weeks.
Boni hopes that the festival will inspire members of our community to, as he says, get “smitten” with mycology, just as he did over a decade ago.
“Once you go out and look for mushrooms and find a few, even though there might be just a few, it’s kind of like developing – I don’t want to call it an addiction – but certainly a love that continues to be part of your life,” Boni said. “My hope is that people can learn something that takes them into the woods to forage, and bring something home to cook and get all the excitement that comes from that.”
The full schedule of this weekend’s events is available at eaglemushroomfest.com.