Though he’s been making wine since the late 1970s — including his Santa Barbara County start at Rancho Sisquoc in 1985 and the founding of his own brand in 1994 — Stephan Bedford might be even crazier about mushrooms than grapes. So for the eighth time, he’s hosting his Mushrooms Gone Wild! event at Bedford Winery in Los Alamos this Saturday, when mushroom experts — both the scientific and culinary kind — will be on hand to serve up mycological info and earthy eats alongside wines of multiple varietals and vintages. The fun guy in charge fills us in on more details below.
What’s our regional reputation ‘shroom-wise? Santa Barbara County is known for some really choice edible mushrooms. One of the great ones we see around here are chanterelles, which we have explosions of when we get rain in the wintertime. They’re golden and beautiful, coming out from under the dust, and they’re so tasty. You can find them at the farmers market and the grocery store, so you don’t have to necessarily fight the poison oak to get them. People can also find boletes and, depending on the region, puffballs, which can be tasty, and certain agarics, but you have to be very careful, because they have a lot of similar ones that can be incredibly poisonous.
Is it popular to pick your own? As more people become interested in gathering mushrooms, the pressure gets much more intense, and it becomes a question ethically of what to do. Should I appreciate them and look at them, or take one, or take all of them home? The thing is to hopefully appreciate it, really just look at it as what it is, and don’t ingest it unless you are absolutely certain what you’re looking at. You can join one of the mushroom guilds that go out and hike around with experts, or take a class at SBCC, which runs an incredible program. I encourage everyone to do that. As well, you can look into any gardening catalog, and even Costco sells mushroom kits. You can grow an amazing amount — king trumpets, shiitakes, lion’s manes, gold and blue and white oyster mushrooms — in your garage or your closet. People get incredibly efficient at this.
How do they do in this dry weather? This year is very challenging. I’m a native Californian, and never in my life have I seen a drier year. So while we can always find some mushrooms, it won’t be in the quantity or diversity that we would like. So our culinary endeavors will focus on dried mushrooms this year.
Why pair wine with mushrooms? Not all wines work with mushrooms, like not all foods work with wines. But wines are complex in nature and can have a lot of flavors and aromatics that are reminiscent of a lot of natural ingredients. Does this smell floral like orange blossoms or herbal like sage? Mushrooms can have intense flavors, and, when [they’re] paired with other ingredients, you can also open the window of an expression into those things. The wine enhances the dish, and the dish enhances the wines.
Mushrooms Gone Wild! is Saturday, January 25, 2-5 p.m., at Bedford Winery’s tasting room in Los Alamos. Tickets are $35-$45. See bedfordwinery.com or call 344-2107.