By Doug Ireland
---- — SALEM, N.H. — Longtime Salem, N.H., business owner and resident Mario Mollica is a big mushroom lover.
He’s also a lover of big mushrooms.
So, when the 60-year-old owner of Salon 99 and Tours to Tuscany recently found a huge edible mushroom growing in the woods near his South Broadway businesses, he was excited.
“It is just unbelievable,” he said.
Mollica, who enjoys sauteing and eating mushrooms, is always scouring area woods to see how many he can find.
But they’re usually small.
This one was so big he couldn’t resist measuring it. It measured 64 inches in diameter — 2 feet long, 20 inches wide, and it weighs about 30 pounds.
“For something like this to grow that big, it’s rare,” he said.
He found the large brown mushroom, covered with ridges, at the base of a tree.
Since mushrooms easily rot in damp conditions, Mollica didn’t want to take any chances.
He lugged the mammoth mushroom back to his salon, which he has operated in Salem for 40 years. It’s also where he operates Tours to Tuscany, taking visitors to his native Italy.
“I didn’t want it to go bad,” he said.
This particular species is known by experts as maitake or grifola frondosa. But to Mollica and others, they are most often known by their nickname — “hen of the woods.”
Mollica said he’s found about 20 of this species in the past, but they were a fraction of the size. The mushroom is a delicacy worth about $16 or $17 a pound, he said.
Despite the potential profit margin, Mollica has no plans to sell this rarity.
“This one, I’m definitely going to eat,” he said.
Mollica, who grew up in the small town of Teano, north of Naples, is a lover of fine Italian cuisine.
He could be considered an expert on mushrooms, since he uses them so often in his cooking.
Mollica slices the mushrooms up, throws them in a skillet, and adds olive oil and a few other ingredients.
“I prefer them with onions and tomatoes,” he said.
Barrett Rock, a botany professor at the University of New Hampshire for 27 years, said a mushroom that size is definitely a rare find.
Although Rock had not seen Mollica’s prized find, he said that type of mushroom usually weighs less than a pound.
But Rock said this has been a particularly good growing season for wild mushrooms because there has been plenty of dry weather.
“They are more like the typical mushrooms that you see,” he said. “I can’t imagine why it would be so large.”