Chanterelles (Cantharellus cibarius), or "golden chanterelles," are perhaps the most well known wild mushrooms. They are sought after by chefs and foodies due to their delicate flavor, which is sometimes described as "mildly peppery." Chanterelles are easy to spot in the summer forest, as they usually range in color from yellow to deep orange. They can be as large as 5 inches in diameter, but 2 inches is closer to average. The cap is wavy and generally funnel shaped. The false gills appear as wrinkles that are forked and wavy with blunt edges and run down the stem. They are the same color as the rest of the chanterelle. Chanterelles also have a distinct fruity apricot-like aroma.
Chanterelles are sometimes confused with Jack O' Lantern mushrooms, which are poisonous but not known to be lethal. The Jack O' Lantern usually grows in clumps on wood and has true unforked gills.
Chanterelles are best used when they're fresh. They are great in soups, stews and sauces. Chanterelles pair well with the following wines, foods and herbs:
- light red wine such as pinot noir or a dry white wine when preparing a light dish such as a cream sauce on pasta
- heavier red wine such as cabernet or our native norton when preparing a red meat dish
- venison and other wild game
When chanterelles can't be used immediately, they can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 10 days or dried and and stored in sealed jars indefinitely. They can also be pickled, but our favorite way to store chanterelles is by sauteing them in butter and then freezing them in jars or plastic containers.
Chanterelles are associated with certain tree species that vary from area to area. Trees and shrubs reportedly associated with them are white pine, birch, hemlock, blueberries, bay and oak. Depending on the region they may occur all year. Here in the Southern Appalachians, chanterelles can usually be found all summer through early fall. July and August are the most fruitful months. They are much more prolific during rainy muggy weather.
When harvesting chanterelles, it's important to disturb the soil as little as possible. A sharp knife or pair of scissors makes it easy to cut the chanterelle off at the ground leaving the mycelium undisturbed, so it will continue to fruit.
For more info on where to find chanterelles, see our Foraging for Chanterelles article.