This morel pasta capped off a beautiful day foraging in Grey County.
Sometimes I feel like the unofficial ambassador for Grey County. In Toronto most people flock to Prince Edward County on the weekends. It’s only two hours away so many Torontonians keep a second home or retire there because it’s filled with great farmers, winemakers and producers.
The problem is everyone goes there.
But Grey County is also two hours, just in the opposite direction. And it has a much less touristy feel. Yet most Torontonians only touch the border to visit Chef Michael Stadtlander’s Eigensinn Farm. Chef Stadtlander is amazing. But there’s so much more.
I shot this video a few years ago during my first visit with Dave to visit Grey and neighbouring Bruce County.
So much to do!
I’ve been so vocal about Grey County that I convinced Charlene from Chew Street to go and she wrote a Feel Good Foodie Guide with all my favourite chefs and producers.
So when she told me she was going back up to go foraging in Grey County I invited myself along.
ALSO READ: Our Beginner’s Guide to Foraging
We spent the afternoon foraging wild foods with Chef Zach Keeshig, a young chef with a keen interest in local food. I was immediately struck by his candor and intense genuine spirit.
Under a strict vow of secrecy we wandered Chef Zach’s favourite spots in Grey County. He was a man on a mission, prepared with a list of edible plants, flowers and the elusive morel mushroom that he hoped no one else had picked.
I have foraged for many things. But I had never found a morel mushroom, one of the most prized foraging finds.
What are morels?
Morels are one of the few wild mushrooms that grow in the spring time. While you can find many types of mushrooms foraging, these are one of the most valued mushrooms. The plant is actually underground and what we see and eat above ground is only a small part. This is why it’s so important to forage responsibly.
MOREL FORAGING RULE – When you forage morels use a knife to leave a healthy part of the stem. If there’s good rain the morel will grow back.
Morels are the kind of mushrooms that win over mushroom haters. They have an earthy, almost meat-like flavour. They are not farmed, although many have unsuccessfully tried to grow them. So you’ll often find them from foragers and farmers at the market.
Most morels in Canada are dried then exported to other countries. If you find them they are best freshly picked although they may keep for up to a week.
MOREL SAFETY TIP – Like some wild foods (hello fiddleheads), morels have a slightly toxic element and cannot be eaten raw but are amazing cooked like in this morel pasta recipe.
When foraging for morels you need to follow the most important wild food rule: if you aren’t 100% sure, don’t eat it. Many wild foods have “look alikes” and are poisonous. With so many amazing farmers’ markets selling wild foods it’s really not worth the risk.
Morels can be difficult to spot and most people tramp on them unknowingly. You can see in the photo above they hide on the forest floor so you need a keen eye.
Fortunately Chef Zach knows the area well and can spot them quickly as we are looking for other wild foods.
But this is what I love about Grey County.
It’s all about earnest people doing amazing things. In the city morels are usually reserved for very expensive meals. But Chef Zach isn’t serving his food on white linen in Grey County.
Last summer he ran a pop-up restaurant at the Grey County Farmer’s Market featuring a tasting menu combining what he foraged with local food from the market.
He returns to the market this summer. He has been contemplating running foraging walks, although he isn’t sure people are interested.
We assured him that city folk would flock to have the opportunity we had today. So please if you’re interested send him a note on his Instagram profile.
We returned back to Butchart Estate B&B in Owen Sound to drink local Coffin Ridge wine and Georgian Bay gin while Chef Zach cooked a meal including morel pasta. After culinary school he spent some time cooking with the acclaimed Jonathan Gushue at Langdon Hall and Chef Michael Statlander, where he developed an interest in foraged food.
In addition to his formal cooking training he also spent time with a local mushroom forager and continues to learn as much as he can. He has a young family and wants to stay in Grey County. He has big dreams to have a house in the country where he would grow his own food with a restaurant on site. Clearly Chef Statlander has left a lasting impression.
Chef Zach Keeshig’s Morel Pasta Recipe
Chef Zach made this dish using local eggs from Dejong Acres (another amazing place to visit). He made the pappardelle from scratch and we watched him roll it out.
For sake of making this an easy recipe we’ve included pre-made pasta. If you’re using dried pasta use 85g per person, and 100g per person for fresh pasta.
Disclosure: this is morel pasta recipe is a paid partnership with Grey County. However, as you know I basically invited myself along. I have such a special place in my heart for this region that has a wealth of amazing culinary opportunities that no one knows about. As I wrote this post I felt like I needed to share a larger downloadable guide so I could share all my favourites in one place.
If you love foraged recipes also check out:
If you’re looking for good cookbooks for foraged ingredients also check out.
Acorns & Cattails: A Modern Foraging Cookbook of Forest, Farm & Field
The Field to Table Cookbook: Gardening, Foraging, Fishing, & Hunting
The New Wildcrafted Cuisine: Exploring the Exotic Gastronomy of Local Terroir