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A Mushroom Forager Packs Light for the Trail



Jeremy Faber has really strong views about mushrooms. The 40-year-old makes his living in the woods hunting for them.

Porcinis and matsutakes make the most money, he says, but matsutakes are his least favorite fungus.

“They bore me. Plus, they smell terrible,” he says.

Black trumpets are his favorite, both to pick and to cook. “They’re not the most lucrative, but they’re beautiful in the woods and they smell really good,” he says, describing their scent as musky and even sexy. “It sounds weird, but they are. They’re a beautiful and mysterious mushroom.”

Mr. Faber comes by his opinions as owner of Seattle-based Foraged & Found Edibles, a provider of wild foodstuffs to high-end restaurants like Sitka & Spruce in Seattle, Giulia near Boston, and The Spotted Pig in New York City.

His company sells more than 30 varieties of wild mushrooms. On a typical day of foraging, he could be out from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., if the picking’s good. He carries a canvas backpack with an Adirondack-style basket inside that can hold 30 gallons, or roughly 60 pounds of mushrooms.

Mr. Faber will drive up to four hours from home for a day trip. Anything farther and he’ll stay overnight, often setting up a hammock in the forest.

Fall is mushroom season in the Pacific Northwest, with chanterelles and lobster mushrooms starting to pop up in late summer. In January, Mr. Faber will head to Northern California for several weeks of foraging for hedgehog, yellowfoot and his beloved black trumpet. His company also sells wild greens and berries: February is the season for nettles, watercress and miner’s lettuce.

By March, he’s back in Washington for morel mushrooms. In April and May, he’s off to West Virginia and Michigan for ramps. Summer is all about wild berries.

Working alone, he says he can cover 1,000 to 2,000 acres a day. “I don’t really like anybody enough to bother taking them with me,” he says.

Mr. Faber relies on detailed topographic maps from the U.S. Geological Survey that he keeps folded in his pocket.

Working in damp forests means he occasionally gets fogged in, so he always carries a compass. He’s used to getting wet. Rain pants and a trucker hat are part of his uniform. He usually wears hiking shoes, unless he’s working in a swampy area; then the Xtratuf rubber boots come out.

Tools include a small carbon steel knife by Morakniv for cutting mushrooms out of the ground and a pair of sharp scissors. He doesn’t wear gloves, he says, because his job is tactile.

As a professional forager for more than 16 years, he’s learned to handle the product carefully. He separates his baskets with parchment paper and plastic bags. “You don’t want to mix mushrooms if you can help it,” he says. The bigger fungi, like lobster mushrooms and matsutakes, need to be handled especially gently—breakage hurts their value.

Because of his sharp knives, medical tape is a must. Bungee cords and a ball of twine come in handy to lash things to his backpack, like his picking bucket or the odd elk horn found in the woods.

For snacks, Mr. Faber brings energy bars. For a more substantial meal, he’ll pack marinated chicken thighs and cook them over a fire. He doesn’t usually hunt, but occasionally he’ll get lucky and catch a grouse by throwing his knife at it. “Some of the best food I’ve had in my life I’ve cooked in the woods,” he says.

He often returns to the same foraging spots, though he keeps their exact locations vague.

Mr. Faber started off studying forestry at the University of Vermont but says he did more skiing than studying. He’d loved cooking since childhood and always had part-time jobs at restaurants, so he transferred to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. After culinary school, he moved to Seattle and started working in gourmet eateries.

“The second I landed here, I was hiking and picking berries and using wild foods,” he says. Chefs would ask him to find items like wild ginger or chanterelles for the menu. Soon, he was spending two or three days a week nosing around the woods.

He and a partner started Foraged & Found Edibles in 2001, selling at local farmers' markets. “We both wanted to take some time off from restaurants, and it was a good morel year,” Mr. Faber recalls. “We figured we’d pick some mushrooms and go travel.”

Since then, his reputation has grown; he was featured in the 2013 culinary adventure book “The Mushroom Hunters” by Langdon Cook.

Mr. Faber now has a network of pickers in the region. He always carries his iPhone to check the weather and arrange wilderness meetings with suppliers to buy their haul.

One thing he doesn’t bring on his treks: GPS devices. “I think they dumbify people,” Mr. Faber says. “Whenever you hear about someone getting lost in the woods, they almost always have a GPS with them.”

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