By PAIGE LaBARGE
Capital News Service
LANSING— Morels are popping up, attracting tourists who taste, hunt and participate in mushroom festivals.
Morels grow in various areas but they’re most plentiful in Northern Michigan, said Phil Tedeschi, president of the Michigan Mushroom Hunters Club in Southeast Michigan.
“They are found in the spring, which is the major hunting season, and everyone gets involved,” Tedeschi said. “Restaurants offer recipes, communities plan festivals and it’s a great way to show off the state’s locally grown food.”
According to Tedeschi, many people come to Michigan to hunt for the mushroom because of its unique taste and ability to be combined in many of prepared dishes.
“It has a distinct, delicate flavor and is a very easy mushroom to identify,” Tedeschi said. “The colors of the mushroom change throughout the season. They are black and gray the majority of the time, but turn into yellow toward the end.”
Safety is an important issue when hunting, and the morels pose less risk since it’s easy to identify and there are fewer species in the spring, Tedeschi said.
The mushrooms grow better in damp, wooded areas, Tedeschi said.
During the festivals, people hunt morels, and there is an award for whoever finds the most. Local restaurants set up stands to teach people new dishes that include the mushroom, Tedeschi said.
Tedeschi said festivals boost tourism in the state.
“We have about 150 members in our club and also see a large amount of Indiana and Ohio residents at the hunts,” Tedeschi said. “All these people traveling stay at hotels during the hunting season.”
The 51st annual Boyne City Morel Mushroom Festival will take place on May 13-15, according to Peter Fitzsimons, executive director of the Petoskey Area Visitors Bureau.
“Hundreds attend the festival to experience the different activities involving morels,” Fitzsimon said.
According to Fitzsimon, the event includes the Boyne Valley Lion’s National Morel Mushroom Hunt and the Taste of Morels, where people search for mushrooms and learn recipes.
“People hunt in public land in the area, like Chandler Hills, and are rewarded for how many they find,” Fitzsimon said.
“This season is certainly helping the economy because the festivals and hunts are getting bigger every year by offering tasting tests, music and cooking ideas,” Fitzsimon said. “It is really helping local restaurants sell food and also hotels book rooms.”
Mike Norton, media relations officer of the Traverse City Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the Traverse City area is also known for its morels.
“The area has many wooded slopes for hunting, and residents refer to the fungi as the truffle of the North.
“They create new dishes and feature the tasty fungi in them. Some also feature wine from vineyards in Old Mission and Leelanau peninsulas that pair well with the mushroom,” Norton said.
There’s also an annual Mesick Mushroom Festival scheduled for the area.
“It has been going on for 52 years and is a three-day event in May 6-8 to celebrate the morel bloom,” Norton said.
Sandy Sheine, of the Michigan Mushroom Hunters Club, said the club does more hunts than any other club and it has members from Michigan and out-of-state.
“People have been hunting these for years, and with the world becoming more environmentally conscious now, more people want to get involved in fresh food,” Sheine said. “Especially now, younger people are interested in locally grown food and we see them at more and more of these types of activities.”
© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.