October 21, 2014

Wild mushrooms foraged in SC now allowed on restaurant menus

Morel mushrooms like these are among those that can now be picked and served at restaurants in South Carolina (Image: Brownfield Ag News)

Morel mushrooms like these are among those that can now be picked and served at restaurants in South Carolina (Image: Brownfield Ag News)

Restaurants will now be able to serve mushrooms that have been picked in the wilds of South Carolina.

The state Department of Health and Environmental Control recently approved new restaurant codes that make it easier for locally “foraged” mushrooms to make it on the menu. Previous DHEC regulations would only allow picked mushrooms that were “individually inspected and found to be safe by a mushroom identification expert.” But the regulations did not specify what would make someone an expert.

But that changed under the new retail food code that took effect last month. Now an “expert” is defined as someone tested and certified by a third party examiner who is approved by DHEC. The examiner would be expected to follow Conference for Food Protection guidelines.

Tradd Cotter of the Mushroom Mountain farm and lab in Easley is organizing the new certification courses. “Now there’s an opportunity for anyone with no experience to just take the class and be able to pick on their private land, then turn around and make some income out of it,” he told South Carolina Radio Network. He noted that 60 pounds of chanterelle mushrooms are worth $1,200, for instance.

Cotter said he hopes to hold the first certification courses next month, beginning with all-day classes on August 9-10, followed by field identification and tests the next weekend. He said the training is necessary to discern edible mushrooms like morels and chanterelles from other varieties that are poisonous and possibly even deadly.

“We don’t need uneducated pickers out there picking and then just selling them,” Cotter said. “There is a chance that there could be a poisonous one mixed in. They’re really easy to ID, but accidents happen.” He estimated less than one percent of mushroom species in South Carolina are deadly to consume.

Foraged mushrooms have become a larger part of local food movements, as some upscale restaurants are increasingly focused on serving food harvested nearby.

“This is something that chefs are wanting to buy. And we didn’t have a legitimate program in place,” Coastal Conservation League food and agriculture program director Lisa Turansky said. She added that most restaurants currently get their mushrooms from other states, where similar regulations may not be in place.

That includes the American Grocery Restaurant in Greenville. Owner/chef Joe Clarke says he prefers to use a network of local farmers for his dishes. However, Clarke said he currently gets most of his mushrooms from Oregon. He said he has used South Carolina-grown mushrooms in the past.

“It’s just another farmer in our back pocket that we can provide great product from,” he told South Carolina Radio Network. “But I think, by and large, that’s going to be the smaller amount of the mushrooms that I actually serve.”

Other chefs who forage for some of their own vegetables say they would like to increase their offerings to include mushrooms. Richard Wilson, the chef at Maggie’s Pub outside Beaufort, told the Beaufort Gazette in April that he would use locally-harvested mushrooms.

Cotter said it made no sense for state law to bar mushroom picking in South Carolina, while allowing restaurants to import wild mushrooms from other states.

“Specialty food shops are shipping these things in anyway with no tracking,” Cotter said. “All you have to do is pick them in North Carolina, then come across the border and sell them here. What’s the difference?”