These competitors are marathoners not simply mushroom hunters. It is not a hobby to the participants in the IV World Championship of the mushroom. This is a real race, like in the olympics. And to win they have to give and risk everything: they sweat profusely even in cold weather, they can break a leg, they can fall into a deep gully.
In 2016 there were 523 competitors from 7 countries. The Tuscan Emilian Appenines National Park sponsors the race. Its goal is to create an alliance between the hunters and the park in order to protect the environment. It teaches the participants to use the park respectfully. Last year the park received recognition as a UNESCO biosphere reserve.
At 7 am on the day of the competition, it is dark, foggy, and freezing cold. Everyone is assembled to hear the final instructions. “So, you know the rules. Four hours of searching and then back here, for weighing. Remember: No more than three kilos.” The speaker is Nicolò Oppicelli, mycologist: “The camouflage is fine, but put on something colorful. Last year in Liguria—there was fog there also—one person became ill and we could not find him, even though he was only 10 meters from us. It did not end well. Respect the rules. Remember that in past championships, some contestants were disqualified and did not make “una bella figura.”
Then, at 8 am, the departure. With mushrooms, as in love, almost anything goes…at least in the past. There were those who slipped into the woods the day before and hid porcini under the leaves. Then there were those who were furnished a supply by a friend who arrived in a jeep on a dirt road. And there were those who passed their mushrooms to a colleague so that he could win the medal. These tricks disqualified the participants involved.
The winner this year was Giuseppe De Moro, 50 years, a salesman in a fishing store in Genoa. He collected 23 porcini for a total weight of 1,950 grams. How does one become a champion? “By studying the woods. Last year I was in the championship and I found nothing. Then in the spring and summer I came here to study these woods. You have to understand how they react when there is little rain. You have to find wetlands, open spaces where the leaves are not waterproof to the ground. My dad, 86 years old, sometimes accompanied and advised me. My grandfather, a teacher, told me to collect what you see, not what is hidden. He hated those who used rakes and those who destroyed the poisonous mushrooms. He said that no one must realize that you went into the woods.
“Now I will phone my dad, to tell him that his lessons have paid off. Then I will call my son who is studying engineering and say, ‘Do you know that your dad…?’”