Agaricus campestris

The champignon par excellence

When you think of mushrooms, the woods immediately come to mind. In fact, the habitat in which mushrooms usually proliferate is the damp and shady undergrowth; but there are species that are exceptions. This is the category of mushrooms that, in a generic and all-encompassing way, is called "champignon" mushrooms. As the name suggests, this term refers to those mushrooms which, instead of growing under trees, appear instead in the fields, especially near cultivations or grazing areas. What is considered the champignon par excellence, given its wide distribution and the goodness of its meat, is the Agaricus campestris. Even its botanical name (campestris) alludes to the fact that it grows in the fields; Agaricus, on the other hand, is the name of the genus to which it belongs, along with many other species.

The characteristics of the Agaricus campestris

Therefore, the Agaricus campestris can be searched in meadows and fields. Generally it appears in spring, or in autumn, especially after a rain followed by a long period of drought. Its shape is characterized by a globular cap, which however as it grows it tends to flatten at the edges, and to join the stem. The hat never exceeds ten centimeters in diameter, and is covered by a thin veil that ends with an evanescent ring on the edges. The color is white tending to yellow, and at the point where the hat meets the stem tends to take on a pinkish tinge, as do the internal meats, when they are cut. The stem is cylindrical, compact and firm, white and tapered, and can reach up to six centimeters in length. In the Agaricus campestris there is no volva, which is the veil that covers the carpophore of some mushrooms.

Mushrooms similar to the Agaricus campestris

The Agaricus campestris can be recognized for all the listed characteristics, but also because it is a saprophyte fungus, therefore it is found near dead and decaying organic matter. Moreover, it always grows in groups and very often in a circle, what is popularly called the witch's circle. It is also recognized by the smell it gives off, which is sweet and reminiscent of anise. The taste is in turn sweetish and very pleasant, but it is not advisable to taste a mushroom just found, because the Agaricus campestris can easily be confused with poisonous and deadly mushrooms. In fact, the Amanita phalloides, the Amanita verna and the Amanita virosa have morphological characteristics very similar to those of the champignon, and are highly poisonous. The most obvious element from which we can distinguish from the Agaricus campestris is the presence of the volva. This field mushroom can also be confused with other species of Agaricus, which however are all edible.

How to cook the champignon

Once the identity of the Agaricus campestris has been ascertained, all that remains is to cook it. The field mushroom is one of the most widely used mushrooms in the kitchen due to its very appreciable taste, and also for the compactness of its meat. Like any other mushroom, it must not be washed but only freed from excess soil with a small brush and a small knife. Then it is cut into slices and can be sautéed in a pan, or used to make sauces with which to season pasta. The Agaricus campestris is also very good on pizza. For storage, it can be easily dried or preserved in oil. The flavor of field mushrooms, however, is especially appreciated when eaten raw in salads. Always pay attention to picking specimens in which the lamellas have a pink color, because when they assume instead a greyish brown tint it means that the fungus is old and no longer good to eat.