Spanish chefs, gourmets fear drought could mean no wild mushrooms this year

Some Spanish chefs and gourmets have been looking up at the skies longingly and scouring long-range weather forecasts, alarmed that a lack of rainfall could presage a terrible mushroom crop this year.

Mushrooms need moisture to turn their spores _ like tiny seeds _ into new fungal structures, some of which are much sought-after by mushroom aficionados for their delicious flavors and delicate textures.

The trouble is that Spain has been enduring its worst drought since record-keeping began.

"It is very worrying, so far we have seen very few wild mushrooms and those we have been able to buy have been extremely expensive," said Angeles Gimenez Cervantes, wife of chef Juan Antonio Mendez whose Madrid restaurant Nicolas is known for its rice and mushroom combinations.

Mendez, who trained in Italy where rice and funghi dishes are considered an art form, has always had a good eye for Spanish wild mushrooms.

"Scarcity always leads to higher prices," said Gimenez Cervantes. "So far we have been able to keep our menu unchanged thanks to our stock of frozen mushrooms but if it doesn't rain by Oct. 15 things will have to change."

Environment Ministry Water Director Jaime Palop has called the drought "unprecedented" and has said that weather forecasts "are not optimistic."

The Ministry of Environment has said that the past year would go down as the driest since reliable records began to be kept, about 120 years ago.

"We are at zero. We wait for rain, otherwise we won't be able to pick anything," said Francisco de Diego Calinge, president of the Mycological Society of Madrid and expert of the city's Botanical Gardens was quoted as telling the Spanish news agency EFE.

"It has rained a bit in the northwest _ near the city of Barcelona _ so I was able to pick a small basket in the forest today," wild mushroom picker Xavier Armangue said on Saturday. "But when I was in Soria _ in central Spain _ the other day there wasn't one to be seen."

Experts can detect the difference between edible and inedible mushrooms, rusts, smuts, puffballs, truffles, morels, molds, and yeasts _ all types of fungus, AP reported.

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