Walking down from the summit of the Mont Agut, we come across some immense, globular mushrooms, nestled in the dry grass.
Nico's eyes light up with pleasure. "Oh excellent," he exclaims with joy before kneeling down for a closer look. "Des coulemelles! C'est trop bon ça!".
And thus, in a field high above Betpouey, armed with a pocket knife and a paper bag begins another of my initiations into French life: location, identification, retrieval and later dégustation of wild mushrooms.
However, once off the mountain and back down in the village, my initial joy of foraging in the wild gives way to a few nerves. What if we have just gathered, at best some hallucionogenic specimens, and at worse, some toxic and potentially lethal fungi?
I trust Nico, but just to be on the safe side, we consult both field guide and the Internet. Nothing to worry about. The specimens waiting patiently on the worktop are indeed edible. I am delighted to find however that this variety of wild mushroom, like many others for that matter, is endowed with a number of pleasingly evocative vernacular names:
- chevalier bagué (a "ringed-knight")
- nez-de-chat ("cat's nose")
- parasol ("sunshade")
In Limousin and the north of the Périgord, they are known as filleul ('god son or daughter'). And in Poitou-Charente, they call immature coulemelles 'bonhomme', a word often used by children for "man"), when the hat is still unopened. Nico assures me that this is when the mushrooms are the most flavoursome.
Fresh, the mushrooms have a wonderfully earthy smell. Cooked in the oven with copious amounts of olive oil and fresh parsley, they have a nutty flavour and a meaty texture just like aubergines.
I never expected cat's noses to be quite so delicious...
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