CADILLAC — Morels are just the tip of the fungi iceberg.
Expert Jill Grenchik said people are often surprised when she tells them about the prevalence and variety of wild, edible mushrooms growing throughout the area.
There are oyster mushrooms that resemble their namesake and grow like a shelf from trees; there are chicken of the woods mushrooms that some people say actually taste like chicken; and there are chaga mushrooms that are associated with medicinal benefits, to name a few.
There is a smorgasbord of edible fungi out there but there also is a dangerous flip side: for all the perfectly harmless wild mushrooms that exist, there are just as many poisonous imposters.
Grenchik and her husband, Aaron, are certified through the United States Department of Agriculture as expert wild foraged mushroom identifiers.
Growing up in the Traverse City area, Grenchik said she went on countless mushroom-hunting excursions with her father, who she described as a “professional Boy Scout.‘
Since obtaining their licenses, Grenchik and Aaron have hosted several classes in the region to share advice on identification, handling, transportation, consumption, preservation and what is required to legally sell wild mushrooms.
On June 30 at the Carl T. Johnson Hunting and Fishing Center, the Grenchiks will be hosting another class starting at 10 a.m.
Grenchik said the class will focus on 20 different mushroom species, including the sought-after morel.
Morels are somewhat unique among mushrooms in that people haven’t quite figured out how to reproduce them commercially because of the symbiotic relationship they form with trees in the wild, Grenchik said.
This means they can only be found in the wild, which is why preserving them is important after they are harvested.
Grenchik said one of the best ways to preserve morels and other mushrooms is by turning them into duxelles, which is a French recipe of finely chopped mushrooms or mushroom stems, onions or shallots, herbs such as thyme or parsley, and black pepper, sauteed in butter.
Once cooked, the duxelles can be frozen, which will preserve the mushrooms for later consumption.
Grenchik said the duxelles can be used as a delicious topping on any number of dishes.
Duxelles is just one of the recipes the Grenchiks will share during the June 30 class, which will include a tour of some area woods to show participants where to look for all the different varieties of mushrooms.
While morel season is close to being over, Grenchik said many other species are still plentiful in the area or will start their seasons in the fall.
Grenchik said the 20 varieties they will be speaking about were chosen because they are easily identifiable and distinguishable from their poisonous doppelgangers.
Regardless of whether one attends the class or not, Grenchik offers one bit of sound advice: if you’re in doubt about whether a mushroom is poisonous or not, don’t eat it.
Also, one should never eat any type of wild mushroom raw; they should always be cooked thoroughly.
For those who are interested in becoming licensed in mushroom identification, Grenchik suggests looking up Midwest American Mycological Information, which is the group that offers certification classes in the spring and fall.
As for the June 30 class at the Carl T. Johnson Hunting and Fishing Center in Cadillac, the cost to attend is $40, which includes lunch and samples of some of the mushroom recipes.
Registration is required to attend the class.
For more information about this and other Outdoor Skills Academy classes, visit Michigan.gov/OutdoorSkills or call (231) 779-1321.