Although we have tremendous bounty of wild mushrooms in the Pacific Northwest, the matsutake is not well known outside the gourmand community. We have a good harvest of tricholoma magnivelare, the white matsutake, around Ponderosa and Lodgepole Pines along the coastline and approaching the higher altitudes of Mount Hood and Mount Adams. I have also found them among Douglas Fir, Rhododendron and Salal. It is a beautiful mushroom to see in the wild, peeking up among the rocks of shallow mountain streams, in mossy groves, and beneath the mosaic of autumn leaves.
The Japanese have a great reverence for this mushroom, which has strong symbolic value in their kaiseki cuisine. For this reason, they will often pay twenty times our local price, and matsutake from around the world are shipped to Japan in October and November. At Tsukiji Market in Tokyo, I have seen matsutake imported from Oregon, Washington and Canada, as well as Turkey and China. The Japanese variety, tricholoma matsutake, has more of the brown markings on the cap that are seen on the stem in the photo. However, the texture and flavor are almost indistinguishable.
The smallest mushrooms are the most highly prized because they are relatively tender, and the veil is closed, making them easier to clean. Larger mushrooms become rather fibrous, sometimes to the point of being impossible to chew. It's firm texture and spicy cinnamon aroma make it ideal for charcoal grilling or poaching and serving in broth. In kaiseki cuisine, it is most often served with fish or vegetables, but I have also liked serving it with meats like duck, beef and chicken. Bourbon has also been a favorite accompaniment in recent years. If you have never tried matsutake, perhaps a restaurant is the first place to taste them. If you feel adventurous, I have seen them at several farmer's markets and at Uwajimaya in the fall.