Ever since I’ve been living in France, I have dreamt of going on a wild mushroom foray. But asking my French friends if I could join them on their mushroom hunt has never been successful. I think they would rather tell me how much they earn than reveal their secret ‘cèpes’ spot! Until I found out about Love la Forêt, a small firm run by a British family that creates wild mushroom and black truffle products. Contacting them eventually led to an invitation to go into the Montagne Noire and look for the real stuff.
Love la Forêt
All week I was excited to go on my wild mushroom hunt, and finally, the day arrived and I met up with Lex. Over a cup of tea, she explained how she and her husband Andy had started in the wild mushroom business. After having travelled the world, Lex and Andy decided to settle in France for a while. And not just anywhere, but in the middle of a beautiful forest called the Montagne Noire. The locals knew this very remote site as the ‘coin des champignons’, or the wild mushroom spot. And that’s how Lex and Andy started their Love la Forêt firm by foraging for cèpes, drying them and then selling them. After 13 years of forest life and two kids later, Lex and Andy decided to sell their paradise and move to the village of Caunes-Minervois. And now, they run their business from there.
Lex took me in her four-wheel-drive into the black mountain area. Of course, I won’t tell you exactly where we went (well, even if I wanted to, I couldn’t tell as I don’t have a clue). Lex filled up her roughly woven basket with fern leaves so that the mushrooms wouldn’t fall out, and off we went into the dense woods. Keep in mind that it can be dangerous to forage for wild mushrooms yourself, as some varieties can be poisonous. Lex has two rules: only pick the mushrooms without gills and avoid the white ones. You can have them checked by pharmacists, however Lex mostly learned from the local mushroom hunters. Lex and I split up, foraging the woods, and soon enough Lex found the first cèpe. It was impossible for me to distinguish them from the fall leaves until suddenly, I spotted two huge ones!
Trompettes de la mort
Overly excited, we continued on our way, filling up the basket with all kinds of varieties. I was lucky, as Lex pointed out many different ones, like fly agaric, girolles (chanterelles), coral mushroom, amethyst deceiver, and many more. A whole new world opened up to me! After a couple of hours of foraging and getting lost (me…), Lex wanted to check one more spot to see if there were trompettes de la mort. Despite their name, ‘trumpets of death’, you can actually eat them. And to her, and my, delight, she found quite a few of them, hidden under the carpet of fall foliage. Lex told me that it took her about five years to find this spot. One day, she went on a ramble with friends when she suddenly spotted the little black, shrivelled trumpet-like mushrooms. Her screams of excitement slightly frightened her friends, but Lex was over the moon.
Initially, Lex and Andy started with selling dried mushrooms. However, always looking for new ideas, they discovered a way to make wild mushroom powders and salts. They add magic to your dishes, bedazzling them with a great umami taste. Well past noon, we headed back to the car with a basket full of the most beautiful wild mushrooms I had ever seen. Back home, Andy had made a bowl full of wild mushroom flavoured popcorn. Yep, that’s right, one of Love la Forêt’s creations is this moreish recipe. I tried to be polite and only have a handful of popcorn, but soon enough I couldn’t hold myself back and dived in again, and again… Lex and Andy had seen this behaviour before on the many food markets they host when selling their products, where 98% of the people that try their popcorn absolutely love it!