There is a skill which I have picked up since moving to rural France, one which has the power to make me feel like a child again: mushroom hunting, or as the French call it la chasse aux champignons.
I have always been interested in foraging, and it’s something which my brother did extensively in his professional role as a creative chef in Dorset, but beyond gathering wild garlic or picking hedgerow blackberries I was far less experienced when it came to searching for or identifying wild mushrooms.
Living here in Limousin, Nouvelle-Aquitaine, where we experience dramatic changes in both our weather and daily temperature, it makes for an unpredictable and exciting environment in which to seek out edible fungi. Happily, the rest of France seems to be as excited about this time of year as we are. Everyone has a secret place where they find their cèpes and it is a great honour to be invited along to a neighbourly chasse aux champignons.
However, to make the most of the free edible bounty of the countryside it is necessary to acquire a little education, and so free smartphone apps like Mushroom Identificator or Shroomify can be helpful.
On top of using these, we took the opportunity to sharpen both our mushroom knowledge and our French language skills by picking up a secondhand French book with photos and illustrations of the kinds of fungi we can expect to stumble upon in our local area.
Fortunately, with a keen interest in finding delicious foods for free, and help from these apps, books and some videos on YouTube, we have been dining in on cèpes de Bordeaux ever since! They are distinctive and easier to identify than some of the other varieties. However, if you should find yourself foraging in France and are unsure whether your bounty is edible then it is perfectly acceptable to go along to your local pharmacie and ask for their professional judgement on whether your mushrooms are wise to consume. We did this and our pharmacist was very happy to check our finds with no charge for their time.
Additionally, if you happen to be in Nouvelle-Aquitaine and treasure hunting is your thing, then why not couple la chasse aux champignons with an afternoon hiking and geocaching with the free app Tèrra Aventura. It has more than 550 preloaded walks and hikes to choose from which are not only a fun day out, but completely free. The French really have thought of everything!