Pioppini mushrooms have been cultivated in Europe and Asia for hundreds of years (in fact, they are described by Pliny the Elder in Naturalis Historia), but their popularity has not yet exploded in American markets as much as they deserve – and we have been missing out! This small but formidable mushroom of the Cyclocybe family grows in clusters of velvety brown caps and fawn colored stems. Their flavor is nutty, sweet, and peppery, and their stems have a satisfying crunch that some people liken to the texture of asparagus.
Because of its popularity across a diverse range of cultures, you will find Pioppini called for in all sorts of recipes, from Mediterranean to Japanese. Thanks to their firm texture, they can withstanding being cooked over high heat. Press them into the pan with the back of a spatula and listen to them squeak and squeal as they sear. Just make sure to leave room in the pan so the mushrooms can sweat as they cook, otherwise they are prone to getting soggy. Pioppini pairs well with red meat and wild game. It is also an excellent addition to congee, bibimbap, wild rice, or pasta alla Boscaiola. Try tossing seared Pioppini with pancetta, fresh green peas, a chiffonade of ramp greens, and a light champagne vinaigrette for a simple springtime salad.
You may find Pioppini and similar members of its family growing wild in the Southeastern United States, Australia, Europe, and Asia, though it’s inadvisable to forage for it because of its plethora of lookalikes. They are sometimes called Poplar mushrooms, because of their rumored affinity for growing near Poplar trees. There are some US farms that cultivate Pioppini, but there has been a prevailing trend in recent years of cutting back on the cultivation of exotic varieties. Bigger farms have been focusing more energy on producing larger quantities of familiar favorites, and unfortunately Pioppini has frequently been on the chopping block – but not the one in the kitchen!
Recognizing this, Far West Fungi has made an effort to preserve our Pioppini production. Currently, harvests are in small batches, and may not be available every week. We tend to harvest the entire crop all at once, and then there is a bit of a wait for the next production cycle. Look for Pioppini primarily at our Farmer’s Markets, or in stores on the weekends.
The good news is that we are gearing up to introduce Pioppini as the next exotic variety in our line of at-home growing kits! Though they are slightly more temperamental than Tree Oysters (they tend to like lower temperatures), Pioppini is an easy mushroom for the home grower. As early as next month, you may be able to skip the wait, and cultivate fresh Pioppinis on your own kitchen counter. Stay tuned for updates!