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The 12th Annual McCloud Mushroom Festival

04/22/2016 02:00PM ● By Jordan Venema

Curiouser & Curiouser

May 2016
Story by Jordan Venema

As you tread softly, there’s a gentle crunch of leaves underfoot. The sun shines through branches onto the forest floor, casting mottled shadows. It’s almost silent, though in the distance a bird sings its song, and a squirrel scampers up a tree. You scan your surroundings, eyeing the hunt. There, suddenly, a flash of color. You freeze, wondering, is that – could it really be? Yes, half hidden among the soil and fallen leaves, a flash of orange confirms the prey: the rare and elusive Golden Chanterelle.

Mushroom hunting is serious business in and around McCloud, just southeast of Mount Shasta. Maybe there’s something in the air or the soil that makes the surrounding area so prime for mushrooms.

“I don’t know if it has something to do with the trees,” ponders Darlene Mathis, vice president of the McCloud Chamber of Commerce. Mount Shasta creates its own microclimate, and as a result, says Mathis, “we grow larger, straighter trees, and twice as fast as most forests.”

Whatever the cause, McCloud is something of a mushroom mecca, and each year during Memorial Day weekend, the city draws its pilgrims.

The 12th annual McCloud Mushroom Festival is, like most specialty mushrooms, a diamond in the rough. It’s there for anybody who is willing to dig it up. 

“McCloud is known for our wild mushrooms,” says Mathis, “and we actually have people come in every year – mushroom hunters, mushroom buyers. Our mushrooms are sent overnight to New York City. That’s how far away they go.”

McCloud may be known for its wild mushrooms, but other than at its festival, where to find them will probably remain a secret. The mushroom hunters have their hidden spots, “and they never give them away, but it’s one of those things – they want to have a festival, but they don’t want too many people to know about it,” she says with a laugh.

You don’t have to be just a fan of mushrooms to enjoy McCloud’s festival. There will be wine tasting and music, as well as informative workshops – “all handmade products, like artisans, mushrooms, herbal products, and garden-type things,” Mathis says. Plus, it is a requirement that each food vendor offers one dish that includes mushrooms. The pulled-pork sandwiches are a hit, and the candy-cap mushroom ice cream is always a favorite. Bay Area chefs will be creating a formal mushroom dinner for an additional ticket price.

Memorial Day weekend is an ideal time for the festival, since the usually sunny holiday weekend immediately follows the rainy season, which is the best growing condition for mushrooms.

That means there should be plenty of varieties of mushrooms at this year’s festival – not your grocery staple white buttons, or the faux delicacy portobello, but the kind of mushrooms that can’t be farmed and are only found in the wild. We’re talking morels, candy caps, chanterelles, boletes.

For those interested in branching beyond the white button, free workshops will teach attendees how to identify wild mushrooms. There’s also a workshop on medicinal herbs, which Mathis says is particularly popular.

Children can entertain themselves at a clay booth where they can make bowls or dishes, or visit the resident entomologist – that is, the bug guy. 

By offering so much to do, it’s unlikely that McCloud will long be able to keep its festival a secret. In fact, Mathis says they don’t usually advertise the festival too far outside of the city. “But we’re getting more and more people that are into the mushrooms,” says Mathis, even though many “just stumble across it and don’t even know we’re having a festival.”

That means most people have to find the festival not unlike a wild mushroom – you’ve got to know what you’re looking for and where to find it. If you do attend the festival, not only will you be able to sample the famous mushroom ice cream, but you might ensure that the next time you stumble past one of those hidden gems – like the king of all mushrooms, the King Boletus – you’ll actually know that you’ve found an edible treat worth almost its weight in gold.  

McCloud Mushroom Festival, Main Street, McCloud • Free

Saturday, May 28, 10am – 6pm • Sunday, May 29, 10am – 6pm

Find the McCloud Mushroom Festival on Facebook