Anyone that lives in Austria, or visits at the end of summer, will come across the word Schwammerl, but what is it?
A Schwammerl is actually a large mushroom (the name comes from Austrian and Bavarian dialect, so it doesn’t mean quite the same as Pilz, which is just mushroom) and is the centrepiece of many Austrian dishes in autumn.
Here’s what you need to know about this celebrated Austrian food and how to make the most of Schwammerl season.
When does Schwammerl season start?
Schwammerl start to appear in forests across Austria from late summer, with the harvest season continuing into autumn, or until it becomes too cold.
The reason why late summer is the start of Schwammerl season is because the nights are longer, there is usually plenty of rain and daytime temperatures are still warm – perfect conditions for mushrooms.
It’s also around this time that Schwammerl specials start appearing on restaurant menus and dinner tables across the country, which is the main indicator that Schwammerl season has started.
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How to find Schwammerl in Austria
The best way to find Schwammerl in Austria is to go foraging in the forest yourself – as long as you know what you are looking for.
The danger of this approach is picking poisonous mushrooms so, if in doubt, always go with someone who knows how to forage. And don’t pick anything unless you are certain it is an edible mushroom.
Then there is the issue of knowing the right spots in the forest to find mushrooms.
This knowledge is often a closely guarded secret, and it’s not uncommon for people to refuse to reveal where they found their mushrooms.
Alternatively, if you’re not interested in picking mushrooms yourself, you can find Schwammerl at most supermarkets, independent grocery stores and farmers markets during the season.
And if you want to sample fresh mushrooms but can’t be bothered to cook, then head down to your favourite Austrian restaurant to try a regional Schwammerl dish.
Highlights include Semmelknödel mit Rahmschwammerl (bread dumplings with cream mushroom sauce) and Böhmisches Schwammerl-Gulasch (bohemian mushroom goulash), the latter being a Viennese speciality.
Edible mushrooms in Austria
These are the most common edible mushrooms found in Austria:
- Porcini, also known as Steinpilz.
- Chanterelles or Eierschwammerl.
- Chestnut (Maronenpilz).
If you are new to picking mushrooms, then consider enrolling on a foraging course before venturing into the forest.
These courses can be found all over Austria – even in cities – and are useful for learning what to look for and how to pick wild foods.