Porcini mushrooms are among the most prized mushrooms in the world and they don't just grow in Italy. They might even grow in your own front yard.
Porcinis are from a group of mushrooms called Boletes, all of which have pores under their cap rather than the gills that one sees in most mushrooms. The pores are like a bundle of small straws which allow the spores to fall out of the inside of them to reproduce. We used to think that Porcini, or the 'King Bolete', was a single species, but over the years we have come to realize that it is really a large group of Bolete species all of which share the same characteristics. All Boletes live in a symbiotic manner with the trees around them. They provide most of the water and minerals the trees need while the tree gives them about a third of all the sugars they produce. It's a perfect symbiosis. Cape Ann hosts a large number of Porcini species. Some grow in the summer associated with oaks while others grow in the fall associated with spruces or pines.
One of the great things about Porcinis is that they can be eaten raw or cooked, and their flavor actually improves and intensifies once they are dried. They are a famous ingredient in risotto dishes or with chicken. You can identify Porcini by noticing that their pores appear to be stuffed with white cotton when young, turning a greenish-yellow as they age. Their raw flesh is not bitter when held on the tongue for a few seconds. They also all have a netting pattern called reticulations on their stems. And finally, they do not bruise any color when cut open. If you want to learn more, join the Boston Mycological Club and go on outings with experts or, at the very least, buy some dried Porcinis at your local market and try cooking with them. You will be happy with the results. Remember, before eating any wild mushroom, know the mushroom well and know its look-alikes. Enjoy.