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Some time between beach season and boot season, porcini mushrooms begin to arrive in the market, at road stands, and on menus. Though they are available almost year round, porcini are one of the true harbingers of autumn in Italy, their nutty flavor and mossy smell pulling diners away from the beach and into the cozy embrace of the woods.
While September may be a beautiful time to go to the beach, it is also the beginning of fall’s porcini season. They usually arrive about the second week of the month, replacing cantaloupes and watermelon at those roadside stands that crop up between the sea and the city. Seeing signs for “Funghi Porcini” in the first weeks of fall is like seeing an good friend after a summer separation. It’s always a lot more gratifying than you expect it to be.
But that’s the nature of seasonal eating, a way of life to which Italy stays true. After porcini mushrooms have had their run, then come the vegetables and fruits of winter, spring, summer: Sicilian oranges, artichokes, fava beans, tomatoes, figs. Hungry?
Then September rolls around again, reigniting everyone’s desire for food that’s rich and earthy. A number of towns and villages up and down the peninsula, but especially in north and central Italy, hold sagre (local festivals) devoted to funghi porcini. This is where you can sample multiple dishes (especially tagliatelle or fettucine ai funghi porcini or risotto ai funghi porcini) prepared with the mushrooms as well as buy fresh, dried, and other porcini products like porcini spreads or porcini mushrooms under olive oil and/or vinegar.
One way to find out about porcini sagre (or any type of sagra) in the area you are visiting is to visit Eventi Sagre. A vast majority of these sagre are hyperlocal affairs in small towns and villages, so you will need a car — or a lot of patience if you’re riding a Regionale train. We once visited a porcini sagra in Bellegra, a small town south of Rome, after getting a craving for a porcini and a Sunday drive.
Of course, you needn’t attend a festival to enjoy autumn’s bounty. If you’re visiting Italy in the fall, most restaurants will feature porcini dishes on their daily menus. This write-up (in Italian) on the 20 best restaurants in Italy for eating porcini made my mouth water.