Fungi Festivity: The Mushrooms of Mendocino

Autumn is here and a flavorful party is on the horizon (complete with beer and wine).

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DIG INTO ANY DISH... that's full of vegetables and grains and nuts and other good things and certain flavors and textures typically stand out. Bite into a cherry tomato and feel a sense of red-toned brightness wash over your senses. Come across an almond and an earthy crunch naturally dominates whatever else is in your spoon or on your fork. And should you chew on a mushroom, you'll find yourself, or at least your mouth, automatically transported to the deepest part of a primeval forest. Few tastes are as complex, so to call a mushroom "meaty" or a mere recipe enhancer isn't giving fungus its full due. True, it does have the weight and solidness one associates with a meat-centered entree, sans the meat, but mushrooms often bear a lighter touch in the feeling-too-full department. And the variety is astonishing: In Mendocino County alone, thousands of shroom-tastic varieties spring from the ground. Make that over 3,000, to be specific, making the Mendo area one of the capitals of mushroomania. The plant-rich region likes to celebrate one of its nature-nice, forest-flavored favorites each fall, but the mushroom isn't the only thing on the menu at the Mendocino Mushroom, Wine & Beer Festival.

WINE & BEER, as the name suggests, are the beverage superstars of the week-plus celebration, which includes exhibits detailing the natural history of the mushroom, wine tastings at local vineyards, horseback rides and mushroom hunts, and, prepare your taste buds, mushroom ice cream. We can only imagine a scoop of that particular concoction might go nicely with the garlic ice cream famous in Gilroy, but if sweets aren't your scene, there are a number of mushroom-themed dinners and tastings to attend. As this is beach- and redwood-tastic Mendo, there shall be numerous ways to connect with the outdoors between your mushroomy meals, so balancing our your fungus-forward bites with trips to the beach is part of the party. And that party? It's on during the most mushroomiest time of year: Nov. 6 through 15. Are you giving the mushroom its due, for instantly summoning the forest for us, in every forkful? This is your moment to love on the cap that makes for capital cuisine.

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