Unlike northern countries of Europe, the tradition of mushroom hunting is not as rooted in the south but there are some exceptions and you can still find regions with strong traditions of mushrooms hunting in Portugal.
We visited one of these places in Alentejo, a village called Cabeça Gorda famous for a mushroom called Amanita Ponderosa or in the local culture Silarca.
Silarca / Amanita Ponderosa
This mushroom belongs to a quite poisonous family and a lot of locals are too scared to even eat it. That’s why I think this village created a festival to teach everyone how to find and distinguish them.
The Amanita Ponderosa is native to the Iberian Peninsula and its main habitat are areas of cork oak and holm oak trees.
They are a symbiotic type of mushroom living in close relationship with these type of trees.
How to know if it’s an Amanita Ponderosa?
Scratching the stem of the mushroom should reveal a pinkish colour.
The smell of the mushroom is very earthy, difficult to explain but you can clearly distinguish it from the rest.
In case you have any doubts don’t eat it, it can easily be confused with very poisonous mushrooms.
Why it’s an expensive mushroom
Part of the reason is that the most desirable form of the mushroom is when it still hasn’t fully developed and it’s in an egg state.
You can barely see it at that point but experts mushroom hunters prefer to pick them at this stage as it’s considered to be a great find only for the most experienced hunters.
It’s also part of the reason the mushroom got its bad reputation. A lot of inexperienced hunters started to pick them at this point when its very hard to tell them apart from the poisonous kind. The results were deaths and kidney failure and enough people to make them both loved and hated.
Where to find them?
We went to Cabeça Gorda a village that hosts a festival for this mushroom and that has a quite impressive biological park, but you can probably find them in any field that as an abundance of cork and holm trees.
Parque Biológico da Cabeça Gorda
I find it unbelievable that I live so close to this place and only now I found out about it. It’s huge, it’s unspoiled and it’s wonderful. You can find animals roaming freely, and enjoy nature in a way that not many places allow nowadays. If you are close by definitely go there for a walk or even a picnic.
Go all the way to the far end for an impressive small valley near a small stream, the best spot of the park.