Gourmet mushrooms are fresh or dried mushrooms that have a rich, full flavor and are commonly used in gourmet foods. Typically, these mushrooms are expensive and rare, so only high end restaurants and mushroom enthusiasts use them in prepared food. There are several different types of gourmet mushrooms, and some can be found only in certain parts of the world or under very specific conditions.
The common cooking mushroom is called a button mushroom. It is fairly inexpensive and is common to supermarkets in fresh, canned, and frozen form. It is not thought of as a gourmet mushroom because it is common, inexpensive, and almost void of flavor. Another common mushroom is the portobello, which has a large, round cap and is often used in vegetarian dishes as a substitute for meat patties because of its size and hearty flavor. Portobellos are actually a larger version of the cremini mushroom and are related to the button mushroom.
Supermarkets do not usually purchase gourmet mushrooms. They can, however, be found through specialty gourmet food stores or through distributors that specialize in edible fungi. It is especially difficult to obtain the mushrooms in their fresh form as many must be transported for thousands of miles and stay fresh for only a short period.
Fresh mushrooms are not necessarily better than dried, however. Enthusiasts and chefs alike agree that dried gourmet mushrooms have a richer flavor than fresh gourmet mushrooms. Dried mushrooms can also be powered and used as flavoring for a variety of dishes. Extremely expensive mushrooms are often dried or powdered.
Gourmet mushrooms may be cultivated or gathered from the wild. Some types of mushrooms only require a certain level of moisture and nutrient rich soil to develop, while others depend on specific combinations of surrounding trees, plants, parasites and other organic matter. One type of cultivated gourmet mushroom is the oyster mushroom, one of the very few varieties of carnivorous mushroom, which feeds on small worms in addition to plant matter.
The truffle is a famous gourmet mushroom. This fungus grows underground and is typically found in Europe but also in some other parts of the world. The most expensive variety is the French black truffle, which can cost several hundred dollars a pound. The flavor is intense and is used in cooking and candy making as a popular complement to chocolate.
Another type of gourmet mushroom, which is typically gathered wild, is the morel. Cone-shaped and almost sponge-like in appearance, this mushroom can also cost several hundred dollars a pound if it is wild-gathered and fresh. It's flavor is nutty and rich. Typically, these mushrooms are gathered in the springtime and found most abundantly in areas which have recently burned.