With the autumn season fully rolling in I was kindly asked by Liam Barrie of The Marram Grass, If I would like to come over and join in a fungi foray day he had arranged with local expert Cynan from The Mushroom Garden of Snowdonia. It was Fungi day with a twist though there was to be a cook off afterwards using the days foraged finds. What better way to mark the season I thought. They had hand selected a true expert to head the day and take us on our tour of the local Newborough forest at Aberfraw in Anglesey, mushroom hunting. Plus he had promised his top Italian trained risotto cheft for a special post forage cooking demonstration of how to cook our days bounty afterwards.
All in all a pretty special event in my eyes. I didn’t quite know what to expect but north wales being north wales I packed my water proofs and headed down to their fabulous restaurant for a timely nine am meet. When I arrived the boys in they typical superbly organised fashion had laid out Anglesey apple juice and some coffee for us. We all introduced ourselves to our today fellow class mates and then we here formally introduced to our Teacher Cynan from The mushroom garden a true master in his field.
Cynan I have met on one of his courses from Bethesda Snowdonia, is one of a kind. You rarely meet someone who is so intensely married and passionate about his vocation than this man, he oozes passion on everything Fungi- a real blessing to be around. If there was a professorship in all things Fungi he would no doubt be served with the highest accolades in the country. He is also charming and knowledgeable chap who has a way of making the complicated, uncomplicated which in the mushroom world is useful.
He gave a great into to us with printed off sheets while the coffees where knocked back and gave us a run down of what was expected of us and what we would in turn be expecting to find. Packed snacks where kindly provided by the Marram grass consisting of their home made flapjacks (delicious) Jones crisps and some Anglesey spring water. It never amazes me how much these boys at the Marram grass push for locally sourced products- it’s a real heart warmer for a true Welshman.
Then we headed out into the Anglesey showers, fully clad in water proofs and overheating within the first ten minutes. Cynan has the eyes of a hawk and within thirty paces had found some road side foraging material in the form of a parasol mushroom.
We continued on and followed the Anglesey coastal path route down to a side entrance within the Newborough Forest. Once in there Cynan explained that it was important to keep an eye on the type of trees as this gave some heavy clues as to what mushrooms to expect. Birch trees and Beech trees where two tree types singled out- but not much Beech existed in this pine forest so we settled to look for silver birch trees. The hedgerows where alive already and there was plenty of Sloes, blackberries, rosehips and elderberries if you where interested in some other foraging. Nettles, birch leaves, purslane where a sample of other leafy edibles I spotted as we walked about too.
Intermittently, Cynan would stop and prod in the forest and sure enough there would be a treasure find. It was like he was more looking for the habitat first rather than the mushroom, a testament of a true pro. Within a couple hours we had a basket of mushrooms (albeit) some where a little – but It was necessary that we also picked these so that we could identify the types of characteristics that we should remember to avoid when foraging on our own in the future.
With a healthy basket full of mushrooms we ambled back to the Marram grass with Liam Barrie (Front of house Marram Grass brother) being his also incredibly passion self en route. That’s one of the reasons I feel drawn to these two brothers, because of their infections passion for what they do, also their fun loving happy go lucky attitude is also a real blast to be around, its no wonder their restaurant is bursting at the seams. Speaking of which, the Marram grass will soon be expanding and taking on a new space in the near future- which will give their beloved little intimate dwelling a small boost to the next level- watch this space.
So we made our way back to HQ Marram Grass central station and peeled off our layers and poured another well deserved coffee and treat in the exterior marquee- all supplied by the Marrram Grass. Cynan had already got his text books out and was beginning to list the days finds and cross reference them with this text book so people could, get used to this style of identification. With all the samples laid out, he gave a great debrief of the days finds with some solid take home points outlined.
Next Liam had quietly prised his head chef from the restaurant (right at peak lunch hour), the Chef was a calm as a cucumber considering he had just dealt with probably a hundred covers. Cynan Liam and the Chef then talked us through the type of Risotto dish that that they would be preparing, what type of rice, what type of seasoning (note- Cynan had kindly brought sample of his many mushroom dried seasonings – see here ) that the chef would be adding into the mix for the days cooks off. Some of Cynans previous days foraging was offered up to the table in the form of some beautiful Chantrelle mushrooms which where dispatched quickly into the dish. This was an excellent and valuable opportunity to see a true chef trained in some of the best Italian rice restaurants work him magic with our local produce. This is something I often get home super excited about with my days catch or forage on arriving home and then I hit a bit of a wall.. in that I don’t really know which way to take the produce to get the most out of it at that point. With Fish it’s a bit easier and as get better I’m able to be a bit more fluid with my approach, but my repertoire with mushroom dishes is at best limited. So this was a real winner for an idle chef like me.
The chef calmly took questions as he effortlessly without measure created one of the most intensely delicious risotto dishes I have ever seen or tasted- no word of a lie- if I didn’t have to eat again that week- I was fine with that and if I wasn’t already sold on the idea of Risottos then I was now.. Generous helping of Cynans seasoning and whopping handfuls of Ptarmigan cheese where added to raise its flavours. The marquee fell silent for ten whole minutes as mouth watering spectators devoured the days harvest dutifully prepared by the chef.. Everyone had seconds and some even thirds. Then the chef quietly said his thanks and headed back into the inferno that musty be the Marram grass kitchen over lunch. Est Voila.
Well that was a great day I thought. What really resonated with this style of course was that it felt like the loop had been closed. We hunted, we cooked, we ate. Happy people are always full people right?. Also I really like they way two passionate entrapreunes or skilled craftsmen come together to share their skill bases, you get this multiplier effect which always adds such great value, experience and happiness overall. Big win I felt all around.
The boys at the Marram Grass will be hosting more foraging courses throughout the year and you can keep an eye on what’s going on the foraging front on their website- here. They also have a very fun & active social media presence on facebook which I find great amusement in up keeping up to date with – check it out here
Cynan at Snowdonia mushroom garden you can find here and the list of his jaw dropping products and seasoning can be found on his website here. Cynan also runs courses on Berddgelert throughout the year and can be contact on his social media here or through his website above.
The recipe ingredients are below- be warned you may never try anything as delicious as this ..
Welsh rapeseed oil- dash of- Blodau Aur
8 charlottes & 4 cloves garlic – browned off with the rice
400g – Aquarillo 24 month aged fermented Ri
White while 250 ml
100G Chanterelle mushrooms
100G Porcini mushrooms
Stock 1.2 L mushroom stock home made- using Cyan’s dried mushrooms infused
The Mushroom Garden seasoning ( shiitake mushroom seasoning) salt pepper
Butter (75g) -add in at end the end with Paramasan
Have a go and enjoy. N