How to Find One of the World's Most Expensive Mushrooms

How to Find One of the World's Most Expensive Mushrooms

Mushrooms can be expensive. Really expensive. It’s part of what makes foraging so attractive to me: the opportunity to work with the freshest, often prohibitively expensive, gourmet ingredients—all without spending a single dollar, besides the gas it takes to get there.

One particularly coveted mushroom is available to us right now and I bet it’s one of your favorites. You’ll hear it called by different names: the French call it cèpe or cep, the Germans call it steinpilz, and the English call it the "penny bun." Scientifically, it’s known as Boletus edulis, and commonly it’s referred to as the "king bolete." But its Italian name may be the most recognizable to the average gourmand—porcini.

Porcini mushrooms are staples in high-end restaurants, and often run upwards of $35 per pound. Finding fresh porcini for sale is incredibly rare, and those who are willing to pony up for the expensive ingredient are often forced to use a dried version. But if you dream of working with this mushroom, I have good news: the porcini is beginner-friendly, grows all over the place, and you can find it right now.

Porcini ID

How to Identify Porcini Porcini grow out of the ground and have a stipe connecting to a cap. They are boletes, and like all boletes, porcini are polypores. This means that the underside of their cap has a pored surface, not a gilled surface. From above, the surface of the cap is a pretty uniform shade of brown to deep tan to nearly white. It has the appearance of a hamburger bun, hence the moniker “penny bun.” Their stipe is normally bulbous and over an inch wide—I’ve found some as big as softballs—and the stipe surface has a distinct netting pattern, growing in prominence as the stipe approaches the cap. Also, when the mushroom is cut, it will not bruise.

Porcini Lookalikes Porcini are a great beginner mushroom, particularly for those interested in expanding their knowledge into the world of boletes. They don’t really have any common toxic lookalikes, but there are a few mushrooms that a particularly careless forager could mistake for porcini.

The first is the bitter bolete. It’s non-toxic and won’t hurt you, but it will ruin whatever dish you put it in. You can tell this one apart from a porcini by the pink flush of its spore surface. You can also taste test this mushroom by taking a small bite, chewing it, and spitting it out. If it’s bitter, you’ve got a bitter bolete.

The bay bolete is an edible mushroom with a rusty colored stipe. It bruises blue and has a softer texture than the porcini. Some people like to cook with it, while others leave it in the woods.

A potentially toxic lookalike can be found in the Northeast: the rarely encountered “false king bolete” known scientifically as Boletus huronensis. This mushroom grows primarily among hemlocks, bruises green-blue, has an obvious rubbery texture, and often lacks any sort of bug infestation. There have been a few reports of folks eating this mushroom and getting sick, while other folks eat it without any negative effects.

The final potential lookalike is the Satan’s bolete. It has a bright red pore surface and stipe. It bruises a very obvious blue. It probably won’t kill you, but you’ll wish it did. Don’t eat it.

When and Where to Find Porcini Porcini can begin flushing as early as June with the right amount of rain, and often continue to emerge until the beginning of October. In comparison to other, similarly desirable mushrooms (like morels) they have a very long season.

In the Northeast and Midwest, they tend to grow in oak flats. I have a buddy in Wisconsin who finds them a few days after a late summer rain with remarkable consistency. The key is timeliness. The oak-flat porcini don’t have the same constitution as their Western, pine-loving counterparts and are quickly lost to bugs.

In the West, they appear in fir and spruce forests. I like to look in spots with minimal underbrush where broken light can get to the forest floor, particularly a few days after some rain. In the arid West, moisture retention is key, so focus on microclimates by creek bottoms and places with moss where extra moisture will be present.

Once you find a spot, remember it because you’ll find them there year after year.


How to Clean and Cook Porcini Preparing porcini for the table starts with care in the field. The most important thing is removing the dirt from the stipe, otherwise you’ll end up with grit all over the other mushrooms in your basket.

First pull the mushroom from the ground by the base as low as you can reach. Next, brush off as much dirt as possible then take a sharp knife to cut away any spots where dirt remains, as if peeling a potato. Be careful to retain as much of the mushroom as possible.

A minimalist approach is best for cooking porcini. Highlight their natural flavor rather than mask it in a complicated preparation. Sauté and brown them in butter or rendered fat and place them atop a braised game shank. They’re great in omelets or front and center in a simple pasta dish.

Fresh porcini are best consumed within four days of harvest. If you find yourself with a surplus, they dehydrate well and can add a great hit of umami to stocks, soups, and sauces.

A Final Note If you choose to go out for porcinis—and I suggest you do—remember to bring a field guide to help make an accurate identification. Mushroom hunting is a great hobby, and porcinis are very safe mushrooms in general, but you need to be absolutely sure of what you’re eating every time.

MeatEater Fire Breather Hot Sauce
Save this product
MeatEater Store
Thanks to the fresh pepper flavor with hints of garlic and smoke, this versatile hot sauce will kick up the heat level on just about anything, from unicorn shanks to jackalope roasts. Made in the USA. 5 fl oz
4 Pack Seasonings Gift Pack
Save this product
Get the what you need to cover nearly any recipe in the kitchen. Designed tocover Fin, Fowl, Forage, and Fur these spices will step up your game in thekitchen with nearly any critter you bring home.
Meater+ Bluetooth Thermometer
Save this product
With up to 165 ft Wireless Range, MEATER is the first truly wireless smart meat thermometer.
The MeatEater Fish and Game Cookbook
Save this product
Penguin Random House
The definitive guide to cooking wild game, including fish and fowl, featuring more than 100 new recipes.
MeatEater Smoke Signals BBQ Sauce
Save this product
MeatEater Store
This smokey, tangy, Kansas City-style BBQ sauce is perfect to serve alongside brisket, slather over burgers, or baste on a rack of brontosaurus ribs. Made in the USA.  12 fl oz
Tall Cocotte 5 QT
Save this product
"I use my Staub dutch oven more than any other cookware during the winter for creating delicious braised wild game recipes." - Danielle Prewett
Jean-Paul Bourgeois Seasonings 6 pack
Save this product
Thoughtfully curated by wild game connoisseur and MeatEater Chef Jean-Paul Bourgeois, these spices will have your taste buds begging for more. Submarine Designed with our swimming friends in mind, this blend boasts fresh green herbs like chive, marjoram, and parsley while packing a punch of garlic, salt, and chili flake. Other than the fish or seafood itself this is the only ingredient you need Game Changer Perfect on all game especially ducks...
Essential Meatcrafter™️ Knife
Save this product
A hybrid hunting fixed blade with a fine, smooth edge to trim, debone, or slice your preferred cuts of meat. Makes just as much sense in the back of your truck as it does in the kitchen drawer.
Save this article