“It’s a 50 zone!”
shouts the eccentric Italian restaurant owner, detracting from the tray of mushrooms he’s showing us in the boot of his car to wield his phone at a queue of speeding traffic in an attempt to slow them down.
As soon as we spotted the quirky, ramshackle building of Agriturismo Tre Cime di Lavoreddo with its wooden shutters, its gazebo adjoining the garden and its torn flags rippling in the breeze we knew we needed to stop. Unlike many of the polished restaurants and ski chalets in the area this building stood out to us as having character, charm, and it evoked in us a curiosity to learn more.
We entered the house-turned-restaurant through a little wooden porch with a sign that read pappardelle porcini fresci! just as we saw the owner returning with his dog and a wicker basket slung under his arm.
We asked if we might be able to film a video with him and learn to forage and cook with mushrooms, but sadly he explained that we were too late as the mushroom season was nearly over and so there would be nothing to show.
However he was keen to show us his passion, and led us out to his car where he revealed a tray of various mushrooms attached to clumps of grass, and began to explain the differences between how they grow; from living plants, from dead matter or symbiotically, in between shouts at passing speeding traffic.
He then led us to his garden where a rainbow of red and green cabbages and yellow courgettes lay on the table, and shouted to his wife who lived in the house across the road. An elderly lady with as much character in her face as her husband came and helped him drag out another two trays brimming with mushrooms from beneath a bench which he told us proudly he had picked in the space of just one hour.
As we gazed at the trays of fungus, Ottorino delved deeper into the stories of his life, explaining that he receives no support from the Italian government for physiotherapy. Instead he walks every day, spending hours foraging as a form of self-therapy to keep his multiple sclerosis at bay.
He was a self-taught mushroom expert who had been foraging for the best part of 30 years and running his restaurant for 12. He knew exactly which plains and hillsides would produce the most mushrooms and knew the landscape like the back of his hand, and told us proudly he had once picked 27 kilos of porcini in just one hour.
Although we could’ve listened to his stories all day and he seemed glad to divulge, we found our conversation coming to an end. In the background we heard the shouts of his wife as two customers arrived on motorbikes and entered the restaurant.
“I must go now... my wife,” he said apologetically, and shuffled inside with a tray of mushrooms in his hands, leaving us more intrigued and more knowledgeable of foraging than we had been just 15 minutes before.