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Saffron Milkcap

Saffron Milkcap

The saffron milk cap mushroom (Lactarius deliciosus) has been eaten in Europe since Roman times and is still greatly appreciated in Europe, and in particular Portugal and Spain, for its mild, slightly bitter flavour. It has made the accidental journey to Australia probably on the roots of imported trees and is found in pine forests throughout the southeastern part of the country where it is collected for the restaurant and gourmet trade. It is easily recognised by the saffron-coloured sap it bleeds when damaged, the concentric rings of carrot-coloured blotches on the surface of the cap, and its tendency to turn green with age or after being handled. Grade 1 saffron milk cap typically wholesales for NZ$40 and A$40/kg whereas in Spain top quality mushrooms retail for €40/kg.

Sometimes the saffron milk cap is confused with a lookalike mushroom called Lactarius deterrimus. This is less palatable and a disappointment when it finds its way into a meal. There are also some poisonous lookalikes such as the woolly milk cap (Lactarius torminosus). A few have also mistaken poisonous brown roll rims (Paxillus involutus) for saffron milk caps.

Saffron Milkcap plantation
Because the saffron milk cap grows associated with pines and spruce with which it forms a mycorrhizal association, it can only be cultivated in plantations established with specially inoculated trees. These mycorrhizal trees can be planted and managed exactly as a normal pine plantation but yields can be much higher if special management practices are followed such as irrigation during dry summers. The profitability of the plantation can be further boosted if the mushrooms are harvested and transported to the market properly.

The first New Zealand saffron milk cap infected trees were planted in August 2000 and mushrooms were produced after only 18 months. The first commercial crop was sold in 2003 by Hannes and Theres Krummenacher near Nelson. In 2009 this plantation averaged 4 kg per tree in its 9th year after planting and the total mushrooms produced so far produced per tree far exceeds the value of a 30 year old well pruned radiata pine. The saffron milk cap has fruited from Gisborne to just north of Dunedin but it should also grow in cooler parts of the country

Freshly Harvested Saffron Milkcap
It is known that bacteria and other soil microorganisms can be beneficial to the relationship a mycorrhizal fungus has with its host plant. The methods that Edible Forest Fungi New Zealand Limited uses to produce its plants takes this into account.

Bianchetto truffle (Tuber borchii)

Bianchetto truffle exposed through the soil

When young the bianchetto white truffle (Tuber borchii) strongly resembles the more expensive Italian white truffle (T. magnatum) with which it can be accidentally, or deliberately, confused. The aroma of bianchetto is also similar to the Italian white truffle, although a little more garlicky. The main differences between the two species is that bianchetto is harvested during winter and early spring while the Italian white truffle is harvested in autumn and early winter. Also at maturity bianchetto turns light brown to reddish brown often with irregular dark brown patches and the insides become coffee-coloured to dark brown criss-crossed with a network of fine white lines. The two species can also be distinguished by differences in the ornamentation on the surface of their spores. In Italy bianchetto range from pea sized to that of an egg but cultivated New Zealand truffles can weigh more than 125 g and are the size of a tennis ball. Unlike the Périgord black truffle the surface of bianchetto truffles are not ornamented but covered in tiny hairs giving them a suede-like appearance under the microscope.

Although an excellent truffle bianchetto was undervalued in Italy in the past because it was often sold mixed with similar looking but poorer flavoured species such as Tuber maculatum (a species commonly found in New Zealand), Tuber dryophilum and Tuber puberulum. These spoil the flavour of food containing them, a problem that persists in Italy and does nothing for the truffle industry as a whole.

Freshly scrubbed Bianchetto truffles
Bianchetto truffles have been found from just north of Edinburgh, in the north to Sicily and Sardinia in the south. The bianchetto truffle was first cultivated in Italy in the late 1990s and the first commercial harvest in the Southern Hemisphere was made by Jeff Weston in Autumn and Winter 2008 at West Melton, near Christchurch, New Zealand. Retail prices in Italy can be higher than €500/kg but off-season truffles produced in New Zealand can fetch much higher prices which currently hover around NZ$3000/kg for grade 1 truffles.

Bianchetto has a very wide host range which includes beech, black poplar, hazelnut, oaks, European limes, cedar, larch and pines. In New Zealand it has fruited on the common hazelnut, English oak, stone pine and maritime pine. It is known that bacteria and other soil microorganisms can be beneficial to the relationship a mycorrhizal fungus has within its host plant. The methods that Edible Forest Fungi New Zealand Ltd uses to produce its plants takes this into account.

Freshly harvested Bianchetto truffles

Painted bolete (Suillus lakei)

Painted bolete

Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), like all of the major forest trees of the world, is dependent on mycorrhizal fungi that inhabit its fine roots. Without these mycorrhizal fungi Douglas fir would become yellow and stunted through a lack of phosphorus and other nutrients supplied by the fungus. Some of the mycorrhizal fungi produce edible mushrooms and one of the choice ones on Douglas fir is the Painted bolete (Suillus lakei). So close is the bond between the Painted bolete and Douglas fir that the fungus will not grow on any other species of tree. If it is found under a different tree then invariably there will be a Douglas fir nearby.

Mature Painted bolete caps are from 4 cm to more than 15 cm in diameter and the stalks are up to 10 cm high and 4 cm wide with a poorly developed ring close to the top. When mature the upper surface of the caps are covered in characteristic divided scales arranged in irregular radial rows.

The undersides of the caps are covered by yellow pores that often run a little way down the stalk. As the caps age the pores become a dirty yellow to ochre with light brown patches where damaged. When rubbed the insides of the caps turn a greenish blue. Other common species of Suillus do not do this. For example, young caps of the larch bolete (Suillus grevillei) turn light brown.

Painted bolete
Normally eaten by North Americans, New Zealanders may need introducing to its flavour. It should be collected when the caps are mature and dry and not when very young and in wet weather when the caps are often gelatinous.

The Painted bolete can be used in a variety of dishes where porcini might otherwise have been used such as soups, stews and casseroles. A snack treat can be made by first removing the pores from the fleshy cap and then fast frying slices in hot olive oil - a lingering aroma and a superb flavour. The Painted bolete omelette described by Freyburger (http://fungi.0catch.com/Suillus_lak.htm#Recipes) is very good particularly if the caps are browned in the pan first.

More than 500 mycorrhizal fungi can be found on Douglas-fir in its natural habitats but in planted Douglas fir forests in Patagonia (Argentina) only 15 species of mycorrhizal fungi can be found. A similar situation occurs in New Zealand which means there is less competition for the Painted bolete in New Zealand's Douglas fir plantations. Where conditions suit the Painted bolete fruiting body production can be very high particularly on poor, exposed, mineral soils. Production in the Douglas fir plantation shown in the photograph below was estimated to be not less than 100kg per hectare.

Painted bolete