Morel Dinner (and Hunt!) at Black Star Farms

by Emily Lechowicz

Emily and a big morel!

Emily and a big morel!

Luck was on my side of the bay this past Wednesday as the only beautiful and sunny day of the week happened to fall on the same evening as the Black Star Farms monthly Harvest Dinner. These six-course, wine paired dinners are each designed to feature one or two ingredients in every course. The theme for May? Morels, of course!

As a unique add-on, Black Star Farms offered attendees the chance to learn the art of “moreling” by hunting for morels in the woods that border the farm with two of Michigan’s first certified mushroom experts Jim Moses and Linda Grigg. Jim and Linda, who are also husband and wife, brought samples of the different morels they had picked, and explained to the guests what to look for, how to look, and most importantly how to tell the difference between true & false morels.

Visitors came to the hunt on a perfect mid-May day, excited and equipped with plastic mesh bags to carry the morels they hoped to find. Because it’s been so dry in the area lately, it was truly a hunt to find the morels in the woods. After searching for a good twenty minutes, the mushroom hunters were getting slightly discouraged, especially those from out of town who rarely experience the tastiness of the morels and the fun of hunting them.

Morel Mushrooms in Leelanau“I found one!” someone shouted, and the guests swarmed around the newly found mushroom like they had just found gold. There it was: a small, white morel, barely peeking out from under the leaves. Everyone huddled around the mushroom to snag a picture of it in the ground before the knife was taken to pluck it from its roots. Before the excitement could die down from the first morel found, another morel hunter yelled, “Here’s another one!” Seems like we found a good spot for a group of white morels, despite the dry spell.

Along the way, Jim and Linda spoke about their different experiences in the woods finding their favorite fungi and also shared some tips on how to look for morels. “The best way to find morels is to just stare at an area,” said Linda, “then your eyes will adjust to the ground around you.”

As the hunt went on, I got to tag along with Linda for a while, and she talked about her farm of organic vegetables, along with other fungus that she and her husband find in their woods. “I like to dry the Hen of the Woods (another fungus), crumble them and put them in soup!” Linda commented, “They’re very healthy.”

Morels in May DinnerAfter the hunt, it was on the table. The setting reflected Black Star Farms perfectly, with centerpieces lined with mason jars and lights lending a back-to-farm yet elegant ambiance to the event. From the a mushroom bruschetta with wild ramp taster paired with a gin and a morel simple-syrup cocktail that welcomed us and through courses including ragout of morel mushroom and a venison, farm egg, and lemon ramp risotto, Executive Chef Jonathan Dayton and his culinary team showcased many aspects of morels. A favorite amongst the guests were the morel mushroom buttercream cake, morel mushroom meringue and candied morels for dessert.

Chef Dayton shared his feelings about Spring saying, “It’s exciting for me because we can finally go foraging in the woods and get outside of the kitchen and hoop houses. It’s not just morels we’re looking for and using – we use wild leeks (ramps), asparagus, and perennial herbs that have returned in our gardens.”

Morel Bruschetta with wild rampStephanie Lee Wiitala, Events Coordinator and pastry chef at Black Star Farms, simply wowed the guests with her expert wine pairing with each and every delicious dish that was brought from the kitchen. As each of the six courses came out, Lee Wiitala introduced each dish, and why she choose the specific wine that she chose to pair with the course. She outdid herself by pairing the chocolate-frosted morel buttercream cake with the honey-infused, sharp, tangy Sirius White dessert wine to create a delectable delight.

Cynthia Goodrick, a dinner guest, raved about her experience. “Each of the courses had a fine wine pairing that left you seeking another bite, no, another sip, no yet another bit. Each dish involved daring and inventive flavors, but also included were a few perfectly prepared standbys, delicately balanced and finished.”

Dinner was a complete success, and with the added fun of the morel hunt with Jim and Linda Moses. Lee Wiitala did an outstanding job putting together the event, and

The team at Black Star Farms put together an experience that left attendees happy and satisfied, full of amazing food and wine and new knowledge in the art of moreling. I even walked away with a morel of my own from the hunt!

You can click the link for information & reservations for upcoming Harvest Dinners at Black Star Farms.