Eagle Mushroom and Wild Food Festival pairs foraging forays, classes and fine dining

There's something for experienced mushroom hunters and newbies at 10th annual festival

EAGLE — It’s hard for Kristen Blizzard to express why she finds mushroom hunting so rewarding.

“I like to think of it as hiking with a purpose. You are surrounded by beautiful vistas and stunning terrain and you get to collect these little treasures in the woods,” she said. “Oftentimes, the mushrooms carry the feeling of where they came from. Their smell reminds you of the forest where you hunted them.”

Blizzard, along with a slate of mushroom enthusiasts and experts, will share their passion and knowledge this weekend at the 10th annual Eagle Mushroom and Wild Food Festival. Lectures, cooking classes, informal forest forays and special dining options are planned as part of the Aug. 2-4 event.

Several notable experts in mushroom and wild food foraging, cuisine, cultivation, preservation, and adventuring will be part of the festival. This year’s speakers include Larry EvansKatrina BlairKen KassenbrockEugenia BoneGraham Steinruck, and Trent Blizzard.

“They are almost all Telluride Mushroom Festival alums. They all have a ton of experience and are well-respected experts,” Blizzard said.

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Take a bite

The Boneyard and the Capitol Theatre will host mushroom and wild food classes Saturday morning, and an identification table and a sauté bar in the late afternoon. Unguided foraging will be free and open to the public.

Notable classes will include: Mushrooming 101, Nutritional & Medicinal Mushrooms, Best Tasting Wild Foods of the Rocky Mountains, Burn Morel Hunting, Mushroom Remediation of Contaminated Soils, the Preservation of Wild Food, the Culture of Mushrooming, Online Mapping for Mushrooms, and a special class especially for the kids prior to the foray.

The festival highlight will be a nine-course wild dinner Saturday night at the Boneyard restaurant, featuring a wine pairing prepared by forager chef Graham Steinruck. Tickets for the dinner are already sold out, but Blizzard urged festival go’ers to check out other tasting options.

“The focus this year is really on the culinary aspect and getting people to taste things,” she said.

In that vein, there are still tickets available for Saturday afternoon’s cooking class demonstration and mushroom sauteé bar.

Get smart

If getting people to taste wild mushrooms is the end goal, the immediate task is to provide some edibility education.

“Of course there are poisonous mushrooms out there,” said Blizzard. “But foraging is really not a dangerous hobby if you are smart about it.”

That’s what makes the Eagle festival such a great event, she noted. The various lectures offer mushrooming tips and during the informal, public forest foray never-ever foragers will pair up seasoned collectors. Once everyone has scored their booty, all the mushrooms are brought back to an identification table to sort out what can be safely consumed.

“Once you have gotten help a couple of times, identifying different mushrooms is like seeing the difference between an apple and an orange. It’s really that easy,” Blizzard said.

What’s more, if someone has ever had an interest in checking out the valley’s mushroom scene, Blizzard said this is a prime year to venture out.

“The mushroom hunting in Colorado is really good this year,” she promised.

Blizzard said part of the reason for the bumper mushroom bounty is wet conditions combined with warm rains. Another reason is the wildfires that hit the area last summer.

“The morels season has been huge this year around the Lake Christine fire area. They grow in wildfire scar areas the year after a fire and that large fire near Basalt happened to be in the right type of terrain,” she said.

Other mushroom varieties are also popping up in local forests. Porcini mushrooms can be found around the Eagle Valley at elevations between 9,000 and 11,000 feet, for example

“There are thousands of choice edible mushrooms right in our backyard,” said Blizzard. She urged everyone — old and young, newcomers and veterans — to trek out to discover the local bounty.

“There is this adrenalin rush when you find these treasures in the forest,” Blizzard concluded.

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