Hunting Boletes in Sardinia
by Davide Puddu
Wake up early – 5am – shower… you put your camouflage outfit on but you ain’t going to make war on anybody today, cappuccino and pasta (brioches if you prefer), put your k-way on, take your basket (made with reeds and young olive branches – a traditional one in other words) and your backpack. Now you are ready.
It’s a rainy December day in Cagliari; the mistral doesn’t help either, but this won’t stop you from your purpose.
Get into your car, a Fiat Marea made in 2000 that creaks at every minimal pebble on the road. Final destination: Montecresia. On the road you stop at “Su passu,” a popular bar amongst mushroom hunters, to get some hints and another pasta to take with you because “you never know,” even though you’ve already got two sandwiches in your backpack that weigh half a kilo. The environment is a wonderful forest of cork oak; but everything is green, everything is wet and you start to think it was a bad idea. Watching football on TV on a Sunday morning starts to sound not so bad.
But you go on. At some point the forest disappears and the garrigue scrubland dominated by Cistus monspeliensis aka rockrose (murdegu in Sardinian language) takes over. It’s time to stop your car. The temperature is 5°C (about 40°F), not so bad for everyone else in Italy – but you are from Sardinia, land of the sun, and it feels like an ice cream stuck in the back of your throat every time you breathe. Cistus is a shrub usually 70-100cm high (about 2-3 feet) – just the right height to get your pants all wet. But just when you are starting to lose hope, here they are: they are brown on the cap, with yellow pores and stem and they often grow in troops. Leccinellum corsicum (cardulinu ‘e murdegu, literally “the rockrose mushroom” in Sardinian) and the big ones are 8 cm (about three inches) across. On average the cap is 4 cm.
After those few, hardly anything. “The hints about the right place weren’t honest,” is what you think. “Of course you cannot trust Italian mushroom hunters; nobody is going to tell you the right place – they are jealous of their places.” You return resigned to your car. It’s 10 am; Ichnusa beer and the sandwiches are a must now. A shepherd has his sheep grazing along the road.
“Itta paridi?” (“How is it going?”) he asks.
“Eh, calincuna cosa s’acattada, ma pagu” (“I’ve seen something, not much though.”) is your answer, taking a beer and giving it to him.
“Prova a su nuraghe, nd’appu acattau una pariga ariseu.” (“Try near the nuraghe, I’ve seen a pair of them yesterday.”)
Then you just say “Grazie mille, Ciao,” finish eating and grab your “you never know” to give you extra energy while you start your car and head to the ancient tower. Some hundreds of meters and you see it.
The nuraghi are ancient megalithic hill forts. Someone might just call it just a pile of rocks but not you – for a Sardinian like you it’s your history, reminiscent of a time where your people was not subjugated and had its own flourishing reign. Nuraghe Sa Fraigada is the full name, a little giant that watches over you while you walk among the rockrose. What will we find? In Sardinia a pair means an undefined number, surely not just two… What? I’m not kidding!
A neigh informs you of the presence of horses. Behind a rock, near the nuraghe you start to see something but it’s just Lactarius tesquorum, a peppery one that is even eaten in Calabria and Puglia. Just after a few seconds an infinite flush of cardulinu ‘e murdegu catch your eye. The sun is shining, like all of this is made up. “It’s not so bad after all.”
Leccinellum corsicum is a species typical of the south-western part of Europe; in particular, Sardinia and Corsica are the “homeland” of this fungus. It is researched for food in the south of Sardinia where it is sold, usually for 15 euros/kg.
It grows exclusively with Cistaceae, which are so omnipresent in these two islands that it is difficult not to see a plant of this family, both in the underbrush (although you rarely see the Leccinellum in this environment) and in garrigue.
It is very similar to Leccinellum lepidum, which only grows with evergreen oaks; it is way bigger with a less slender stipe. In fact L. corsicum is the smallest member of the genus, with a brown cap with a little pruinosity, usually around 4-5 cm across. Another difference is that the scabers on its yellow stem are often tinged in pink. Its pores are minute, regular and yellow.
Its flesh stains red after few minutes and then it becomes brown-purplish.
It only grows during the winter, in the garrigue.