What’s your passion? is a new semi-regular series at Ladies what… where we interview people about the things they love most in their lives. For our first article we speak with Melissa, who has a passion for foraging for fungi.
What is your name, age and occupation?
Melissa Waddingham. I’m 49, a forager/forester and truffle hound trainer.
Whatâ€™s your passion?
Mushrooms, truffles, trees, woodland management and their functions within our environment.
How long have you been doing that?
Its been a progressive journey over 11 years, I started foraging for fungi as a hobby, through my love of good food and got to a point where I could recognise and confidently try different species, up to date with no ill effect or poisoning.
Why did you first get intoÂ foragingÂ for fungi?
The love of good food, the countryside, foraging, the adventure/hunt and the novelty.
I decided to support my passion by doing a woodland and forestry management foundation degree, which was the best thing I could have ever done and complimented my interests more than I could have ever realised. With the confidence and knowledge that I had gained over the years I decided to start my fungi foraging business.
What do you loveÂ the most about truffle and fungi foraging?
I feel privileged that through my diligent study of fungi and understanding of their ecology and environment I have been able to taste mushrooms that in the grand scheme of life a very small percentage of people have tried, enjoying flavors that I know not many have the experience of eating. I like that a lot, it makes me feel very privileged and a bit unique.
If I’m honest I revel in that novelty but [it is] also somewhat highlighted by the sense of danger. I guess I am a bit of an adrenaline addict, however you could not get someone more cautious as I am or more terrified of dying so I do take my mortality quite seriously and you will be pleased to know even more so when involving my clients!
However, Iâ€™m still guilty of getting psychosomatic belly cramps after eating each new species but I guess that’s the downside that goes with the trade!
I also love sharing my fungi knowledge with others. This is not a normal practice – I seem to break the mould within what is normally a very clandestine and secretive world of blindfolds and secret locations!
Normally secret locations are kept within families through the generations of mushroom pickers. I’m not like that because quite honestly if you do the research you know where to look, its no secret, and in time you will find areas of your own.
What great experiences have you had through your foraging and forestry work?
I do not really consider myself an academic so standing in front of hundreds of biologists, scientists and truffle experts from all over the world at a truffle conference in Italy five years ago was an incredible experience.
I delivered a presentation on advertising and marketing truffles in the UK. I was aiming at raising truffle awareness for all the right reasons from local economy, woodland health, biodiversity, conservation and at the same time promoting a sexy gourmet aphrodisiac product!
What top tips would you give to anyone whoâ€™d like to give fungi foraging a go?
Go with a professional first, learn ID techniques. There are no rules, each mushroom is unique and must be learnt for its specific characters, good, bad or not worthwhile in an edible sense!
Every mushroom has an ecological value and worthwhile in every sense of it function within our environment! These functions must be understood and respected following the necessity to comply with codes of picking conduct which I love teaching, ensuring sustainability and the continuation of these natural functions which are vital to the balance and well being of our environment.
Tell us a random fact about yourself that might surprise us!
I have eaten frogspawn scrambled eggs in a Chinese restaurant in London, rather eggy funnily enough!
Â Find out more about Melissa and her work at her website Truffleandmushroomhunter.