James Bowden

Forage for wild foods like truffles, herbs, and scallops on these guided tours—feasting included.

January 06, 2015

For Radmila Karlić, a day’s work means leading her dogs into the dense Motovun forest of Istria, Croatia, to hunt for truffles. She carries a small shovel, ready to dig up the edible treasures the dogs sniff at the roots of the towering oak trees. “Dogs can smell truffles when they’re 65 feet deep,” she explains.

Karlić brings the truffles back to her family’s home, where they’ll be cleaned and shipped off to one of the 450 restaurants that rely on her findings. But dining out on truffles can’t compare to joining her in the field—and then rewarding yourself with a post-hunt meal.

One of the best ways to get to know a place is through its food, and it’s increasingly easy for travelers to experience firsthand the foraging trend popularized by chefs like René Redzepi of Copenhagen’s Noma. We dug up an array of cooking schools, hotels, and passionate locals offering tours that celebrate wild, fresh ingredients, whether over a two-hour sail or a weekend-long forest adventure.

“Foraging keeps you completely in the moment, connects you with the ecological web of life which we are all a part of but are mostly disconnected from, and fills a deep ancestral yearning,” says Caroline Davey, ecologist, forager, and cook at the Fat Hen school in Cornwall, England. “The pleasure people get from then cooking a fantastic feast with these amazing ingredients all sourced within a few miles of Fat Hen is palpable.”

Similarly satisfying experiences await across the globe, from diving for conch in Turks and Caicos to picking herbs on the slopes of Devil’s Peak in Cape Town. After all, the appeal of wild food is universal and even innate.

As Alan Muskat, CEO of Asheville, NC’s No Taste Like Home, puts it: “Ideal for people and the planet, wild food is healthier, fresher, and more flavorful than its garden-variety descendants, and it’s all superfood because it’s what we evolved to eat.”

Cornwall Peninsula, England

The Fat Hen school, located in western England on the Cornwall peninsula, teaches how to cook what you’ve just foraged. Professional ecologists lead tours ranging from a two-hour walk to a gourmet foraging weekend. The most popular offering, Forage, Cook & Feast Day, includes a three-hour foraging outing followed by a three-hour hands-on cooking lesson to create a four-course meal using the found and other wild ingredients like rabbit, crab, pigeon, venison, and locally caught fish and shellfish. While spring and autumn are the most abundant, there are wild ingredients to forage in every season. Winter, perhaps surprisingly, is the best time for salads. $145 per person.

Istria, Croatia

With its medieval towns and bountiful rolling hills, Istria has been hailed as the next Tuscany. Foodies come for the truffles—some of the world’s finest—and can go hunting in the Motovun forest with a guide from Karlić, a family-run company whose dogs are trained to sniff out truffles hidden underground. Black truffles are available year-round, peaking in the summer, while the white variety turns up from September through December. The two-hour tours include an introduction to the history of truffle hunting and end with a light lunch, typically scrambled eggs and small bites that bring out the spotlight ingredient’s flavor. $42–$157 per person.

Cape Town

The colonial-era Mount Nelson Hotel, with nine acres of lawns, pools, and rosebushes, offers guests three foraging experiences, hunting for black mussels, giant sea snails, and seaweed on the Atlantic coast; edible plants, nuts, and mushrooms in the mountain forest; or herbs like fennel, nettle, and Cape sorrel on the slopes of Devil’s Peak. Afterward, guests return to the hotel to learn how to prepare and cook the ingredients alongside a chef. The package is offered year-round, though the pickings—especially for seafood—are most plentiful in the summer. $435 for two people.

Asheville, NC

A tour with No Taste Like Home is a three-hour forest adventure, with lessons in cooking, medicine, ecology, folklore, and crafting. It’s also a contribution to a good cause. Through its Afikomen Project, this first-of-its-kind nonprofit teaches foraging in schools, and whatever produce isn’t used by students’ families is sold at markets to fund the program. Tours run from mid-April to mid-October, and anytime by appointment. Expect to encounter 20 to 30 wild foods, including edible plants and mushrooms, with a focus on common ones you might find in your own backyard. Following the walk, the guide cooks up a picnic. $75 per person.

Abu Dhabi

Oil is famously the moneymaker in the United Arab Emirates. Yet originally, it was the pearl oyster. The Fairmont Bab Al Bahr allows guests to relive that history with its Keep the Pearl package. Sail on a traditional wooden dhow boat through water banks, where pearl oysters cluster. A guide demonstrates how to gather and shuck oysters, with a pearl as a keepsake for each participant. Set an early wake-up call to spy wild flamingos and gray herons; evening sails let you watch the sunset. Approximately $517 per night, including a room, breakfast for two, complimentary access to the health club and pool and beach club, and the excursion.

Brooklyn, NY

Leda Meredith is a locavore legend. The author of several books on the subject, she subsists almost entirely on food grown or raised within 250 miles of Brooklyn. One of her most popular regular tours takes place in Prospect Park, from April to May and August through October. What’s in season changes every few weeks. In April, it’s spicy garlic mustard, rhubarb-like Japanese knotweed, bean-flavored redbud flowers, and leafy greens and root vegetables. May brings mulberries, wild spinach, and linden blossoms. Meredith also gives tips on how to harvest, prepare, and store these items. $20–$25 per person.

Turks and Caicos

Sea conch is a mild local delicacy, served at both roadside stands and upscale restaurants. It’s prepared in numerous ways: burgers, chowder, sweet and sour, and deep fried in flour and spices for conch fritters. And luckily, it’s pretty easy to catch. For the curious, Caicos Dream Tours runs a Snorkel and Conch Cruise that combines a sail along the limestone cliffs of the Turks and Caicos cays with conch diving at Caicos Bank, where you can catch conch from the shallow ocean floor. Next, at the Half Moon Bay, staffers clean and prepare the catch to make a conch ceviche with onions, tomatoes, peppers, and fresh lime juice. $89 per adult, plus tax.

Bradford, PA

Whether you try your luck with a fishing rod, hunt your own game or fowl, or forage for wild ingredients at The Lodge at Glendorn, executive chef Joseph Schafer will help you cook your haul in a private class. Spread over 1,500 acres, this rustic-luxe property neighbors the Allegheny National Forest. Spring and summer are the optimal foraging seasons; look for ramps and watercress in the spring, mushrooms in July, and blackberries and ginseng in August. Fall is hunting season, with trips focusing on deer, turkey, and pheasant. And trout fishing is available all year, as long as the rivers don’t freeze over. $75-$500 per person.

San Francisco

Pick up skills like how to choose edible mollusks, catch crab rocks, and spot edible seaweed—along with a history of local fisheries—during the San Francisco Coastal Fishing & Foraging Tour. Participants also walk away with the know-how of crab snaring, poke poling for eels, casting nets, and mussel picking dos and don’ts. Tours are offered year-round; seaweed pickings are slim in the winter, while spring and summer are rich in sea urchins. You’ll never look at the shoreline the same way again. $40–$50 per person.

Ontario, Canada

Explore the wilds of Canada during Puck’s Plenty Foraging Tours through woodland trails just outside of Stratford, Ontario. Along the two- to three-hour trek, you’ll learn to identify and harvest local edibles—and hear all about the health perks. From early spring through mid-November, participants pluck wild leeks, wild ginger, trout lilies, and garlic mustard (both make a great salad garnish) and marsh marigolds (a spinach substitute) in early Spring, while later spring brings fiddleheads, stinging nettles, and cattail shoots. Summer and fall months offer many mushrooms. Take home your findings at the end of the tour, and use the provided recipes to put them to use in your kitchen.

Nantucket, MA

Seafood is a key ingredient of any island vacation, and guests of the Nantucket Hotel & Resort can delve deeper on a fishing-for-scallops expedition with a pro from the Nantucket Bay Scallop Company. Less than two miles from Nantucket Harbor, you can put on a wet suit to snorkel for the scallops or don waders to walk into the water in search of them. Whatever you catch is yours to enjoy. The recreational scalloping season runs from November 1 through March 31, an off-season period that also promises fewer crowds and more affordable rates. $50 per person.

Chicago

Dave Odd is a stand-up comedian turned expert forager. Since founding Odd Produce in 2009, he has been leading tours and supplying several of Chicago’s top restaurants with blackberries, dandelion greens, mushrooms, herbs, and edible flowers. Options run the gamut: a one- to two-hour meet-up at a public park ($25 per person for groups of 10 or more); piling up in his van for a day’s adventure ($100 per person); ending a foraging trip at a restaurant where a well-known Chicago chef uses your fresh food to create a family-style meal (starting at $200 per person); overnight camping trips on private land ($150–$200 per person). There are things to find even in the dead of winter, though mid-April through mid-November is the best time frame. No matter what type of tour, participants typically learn to identify at least 20 edible plants or mushrooms.

Melbourne

Every two-hour walk with Eat That Weed begins with a weedy green smoothie that gives you a taste of what you’ll be foraging. The relaxed strolls, typically along the Merri Creek in Brunswick, are packed with information on the culinary and medicinal uses of these plants, as well as their cultural and ecological histories. Walks generally take place in the autumn and spring, the best time for lush wild greens. Still, winter has its merits, namely chickweed and nettle, while the summer sees purslane, amaranth, and blackberry nightshade. $25 per person.

Grebbestad, Sweden

The northwest coast of Sweden is famous for its shellfish and supplies nearly half the country’s lobster. Brothers Lars and Per Karlsson lead fishing expeditions from their boathouse, Everts Sjöbod, in a lovely village outside of Grebbestad. They take participants out to Bohuslän archipelago during lobster season, from mid-September through the end of April (peaking in September through December). Climb aboard their boat, Tuffa, for a 2.5-hour session, and you’ll also get to sample local coffee and seaweed bread with horseradish cheese. Approximately $100 per person.

Certaldo, Italy

After museum-hopping in Florence, head southwest to the town of Certaldo, where you can go truffle hunting through the Chianti hills with the Italian Cooking School by Giuseppina Pizzolato. The variety changes with the time of year: white truffle season—the most famous and expensive—is from September to December, aestivum truffles are plentiful from May to July, and whitebait—similar to white truffles, with a slight taste of garlic—are in early spring. Every hunt concludes with a freshly prepared brunch ($89 per person) or lunch ($134 per person).

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