Chanterelles are delicious, delicately flavored mushrooms which are highly prized in the regions of the world where they grow. Found in many areas with damp winters, the mushrooms are harvested for commercial sale and shipment in Germany and Italy, as well as being collected in the Pacific Northwest and northern states along the Canadian border. In Europe, the mushrooms are used in many traditional cuisines and are also known as Girolle in Italy and Pfifferling in Germany.
Chanterelles are part of the genus Cantharellus, which contains several other edible mushroom species. The full scientific name of the chanterelle is Cantharellus cibarius. The mushrooms are a distinctive orange color with well defined gills, a solid stem, and a sweet apricot scent. In texture, these mushrooms are slightly chewy, and have a nutty, earthy flavor which complements a wide range of dishes. Because these mushrooms will turn rubbery with excessive cooking, most cooks add them to the cooking pan last.
Mushroom identification can be dangerous. If you are interested in pursuing wild mushrooms, it is advisable to take an experienced mushroom forager with you. Several other fungi masquerade as chanterelles and while they may not kill you, they will cause intestinal discomfort. Both the Jack O'Lantern and False Chanterelle resemble chanterelles, and can be mistaken for them by inexperienced mushroom hunters. The Jack O'Lantern does not have white flesh, and the False Chanterelle has thin gills and a darker top.
A true chanterelle has a yellow to orange smooth, hairless cap which turns slightly waxy as the fungus matures. The flesh of the mushroom is firm and white, and the gills of the mushroom will run partway down the stem. The gills are shallow and resemble folds more than traditional mushroom gills, forking towards the cap of the mushroom. Chanterelles do not have a veil or caul, and are often found hiding under leaf mold. They have a long fruiting season if rainfall is sustained, and good patches will yield mushrooms year after year.
Chanterelles are available in many supermarkets and specialty stores. Dried and canned mushrooms from Europe are available year round, as well as seasonally harvested varieties in some areas. Many farmers' markets in Europe have chanterelles, along with a variety of other fungus, when in season. In addition to regular chanterelles, you may also find the black variety, its earthier and even more delicious cousin. Black chanterelles are much more difficult to find, and higher prices will reflect this.