Nationalization and Globalization Trends in the Wild
Mushroom Commerce of Italy with Emphasis on Porcini
(Boletus edulis and Allied Species)1
NICOLA SITTA2AND MARCO FLORIANI*,3
2Professional Consulting Mycologist, Loc. Farné, 39—I-40042, Lizzano in Belvedere, Italy
3Via dei Caldonazzi, 54—I-38057, Pergine Valsugana, Italy
*Corresponding author; e-mail: email@example.com
Nationalization and Globalization Trends in the Wild Mushroom Commerce of Italy with
Emphasis on Porcini (Boletus edulis and Allied Species). This paper presents an historical
overview of wild mushroom commerce in Italy, with a focus on recent trends in the produc-
tion of porcini (Boletus edulis and closely allied species). Over the past century, two major
trends—nationalization and globalization—have been apparent in the wild mushroom com-
merce of Italy. First, a simplified national mushroom menu has emerged through processes of
governmental regulation and culinary fashion, but it has come at the expense of differing,
localized mushroom traditions which may suffer under the European Union’s free trade prin-
ciples. Second, Italy has emerged as a focal point of a global market for a small number of
mushroom species—particular porcini. While the name porcini has become synonymous with
Italian cuisine, and in spite of a vibrant tradition of recreational mushroom collecting in Italy,
most of the porcini commercially available in Italy or exported by Italy are no longer of Italian
origin. Porcini and other mushrooms now flow into Italy from all over the world—especially
from China and eastern Europe—and are then often exported as “Italian porcini.” This glob-
alization of the wild mushroom trade, while offering significant income to rural producers and
processors around the globe, has other effects as well, for example, a kind of national branding
some of the European Union’s rules for regional denominations.
Particolare Riguardo ai Porcini (Boletus edulis e Specie Affini). Questo articolo presenta una
panoramica storica sul commercio dei funghi spontanei in Italia, con particolare riguardo alle
recenti tendenze nella produzione dei porcini (Boletus edulis e specie affini). Nello scorso secolo
si sono osservate due tendenze principali—di nazionalizzazione e di globalizzazione—nel
commercio dei funghi spontanei in Italia. In primo luogo si è affermata nel territorio nazionale
una tradizione limitata al consumo di un numero contenuto di specie, sia per effetto di alcune
normative che di mode culinarie, ma ciò è avvenuto a discapito di tradizioni locali più ricche, che
potrebbero ulteriormente risentire dei principi per il libero scambio all’interno dell’Unione
Europea. In secondo luogo, l’Italia si è posta in evidenza come un punto nodale per il mercato
globale di alcune specie fungine, in particolare dei porcini. Nonostante quest’ultimo termine sia
tradizionalmente associato alla cucina italiana, e nonostante esista in Italia una vivace e radicata
tradizione nella raccolta amatoriale dei funghi, la maggior parte dei porcini ivi commercializzati
(allo stato fresco, essiccati o variamente conservati) o esportati verso altri paesi non sono più di
origine locale. I porcini e altre specie fungine giungono attualmente in Italia da ogni parte del
mondo—in modo particolare dalla Cina e dall’Europa orientale—e sono successivamente spesso
esportati come “prodotti Italiani.” Questo processo di globalizzazione del mercato dei funghi
spontanei, pur offrendo un significativo introito ai raccoglitori e commercianti rurali su tutto il
globo, è responsabiledi altri effetti, come per l’appunto una sorta di marchio nazionale“Italiano”
su alcuni prodotti di provenienza globale, come per l’appunto i porcini, cosa che contrasta con
alcune delle regole dell’Unione Europea in materia di denominazioni regionali.
Porcini, Wild mushrooms, Fresh, Dried, Brine, Trade, Italy, Globalization,
Economic Botany, 62(3), 2008, pp. 307–322
© 2008, by The New York Botanical Garden Press, Bronx, NY 10458-5126 U.S.A.
1Published online 23 October 2008.
Brief History of Wild Mushroom
Commerce in Italy
Porcini (Boletus edulis and closely related
species) (Fig. 1) are widely known as the premiere
edible mushrooms of Italy and as essential
components of Italian cuisine. This has not
always been the case, however. Over the past
century, a process of nationalization and cultural
homogenization has resulted in porcini assuming
a preeminent position in Italian gastronomy and
mushroom commerce (Sitta et al. 2007).
Wild mushroom markets have flourished in Italy
for centuries, but preferences and consumption
patterns showed great regional variation before the
20th century. During the Roman period, several
species of mushrooms were widely eaten (Buller
1914). In the 16th century, Felici (1569) charac-
terized the spring-fruiting Calocybe gambosa as the
“most valued and expensive fungus” in Umbria
and Marches in central Italy. The same author
ranked the summer and autumn mushrooms, with
Amanita caesarea in first place, various species of
Russula in second place, and porcini ranked only
third, followed by various species of Agaricus,
Hydnum, Ramaria and Armillaria. This was also
true in the Appennine mountain region (Liguria,
Tuscany, and Emilia-Romagna), where Targioni
Tozzetti (1777) described Calocybe gambosa as a
“very noble fungus, worthy of the Prince’s tables.”
However, both Fantoni (1779) and Angeli (1835)
report that Amanita caesarea was considered less
valuable than porcini in this region, while Can-
tharellus cibarius and puffballs (Lycoperdaceae) of
considerable size were also prized. (Note: All
species authorities as well as common Italian
names are provided in the Appendix.)
In the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia in north-
ern Italy, the commerce of fresh and preserved wild
mushrooms must already have been very important
in the 18th century, and caused many cases of
poisoning every year. In response to this problem,
the first important set of rules (Regolamento sulla
vendita dei funghi) was elaborated and promulgated
by the Milan government in 1820 under the
Austrian-Hungarian domination, with successive
additions and modifications in 1823 and 1856.
These rules were intended to organize and control
the marketing of fresh and dried wild mushrooms,
detailing the species which could be sold in order to
avoid (or at least to reduce) the number of
“Italian” porcini originating in Yunnan, China.
308ECONOMIC BOTANY [VOL 62
Wild mushroom commerce in Rome during the
19th century is described in detail by Ottaviani
(1832) and Lanzi (1889–1893), who published
lists of the numerous species consumed and sold at
that time. The quantities of mushrooms were
already substantial in the early 19th century, with
an estimated 30–40 metric tons of fresh mush-
rooms being sold each year in the city of Rome
(Ubaldi 1990). Farneti (1892) provided an over-
view of mushroom commerce in late 19th century
Italy, including the following observations:
(1) Porcini represented three-quarters of the fresh
mushrooms sold in the most important Italian
markets (i.e., Rome, Milan, Bologna, and
other cities of northern Italy).
(2) Amanita caesarea was one of the most valued
mushrooms in markets all over Europe.
(3) Armillaria mellea and closely-related species
were present in large quantities in the markets
of Lombardy in northern Italy.
(4) Wild Agrocybe aegerita was commercialized
prominently in the markets around Naples
and in Tuscany.
(5) Leccinum spp. (a genus of boletes quite
different from porcini) were especially popular
in northern and central Italy (Lombardy,
Piedmont, and Tuscany).
(6) Pleurotus eryngii, P. cornucopiae, and Lyophyllum
fumosum sensu lato (listed as Tricholoma effoca-
tellum) were highly appreciated in Rome, as was
the shelf fungus or polypore, Polyporus corylinus.
During the 20th century, the quantities of
commercially traded wild mushrooms rose dramat-
ically. The market of Milan alone, from 1919
per year (Ferri 1934). The richest market in terms
of species diversity was undoubtedly the one in
Trento, near the base of the central Alps in
northern Italy. This market developed dramatically
during the second half of the 20th century (Cetto
and Lazzari 1966), and more than 250 mushroom
species could be observed on sale before Italian
regulations instituted in 1995 limited the menu of
Given their worldwide reputation as “Italian”
mushrooms, it is quite remarkable that porcini
remained almost unknown in some parts of Italy
until a few decades ago. This was especially so in
southernItaly, where mushroomcommerce wasn’t
organized in the big vegetable markets, but was
limited instead to local exchanges between pickers
and consumers of small quantities of wild mush-
rooms (as continues to occur, for example, in the
Basilicata region of southern Italy). On the
southern island of Sardinia, the main species
locally harvested and sold were, until a few decades
ago,Pleurotus eryngii sensu lato, Agaricus spp., and
boletes other than porcini (e.g., Leccinum corsi-
cum, and L. lepidum). In the southern region of
Calabria, the “discovery” of porcini as edible
mushrooms took place around 1940, thanks to an
influx of migrant timber cutters and coal miners
from the northern province of Liguria. Before
that time, the prime edible mushrooms of the
mountains of Calabria most valued by local
people were Suillus luteus and Lactarius deliciosus
sensu lato, while most of the porcini were not
even picked! Wide-scale exploitation of Calabria’s
porcini for use and sale began after World War II
and reached its peak in the 1960s, when the
porcini harvest became a significant source of
income for the mountain villages of that region
(Pipino 1972). In the coastal areas of Calabria,
porcini also occurred but were likewise for a long
time ignored. Instead, the most commonly sold
species were Ramaria spp., Lactarius tesquorum,
Leccinum corsicum, and Armillaria mellea and its
close relatives (Sitta et al. 2007).
HISTORICAL TRADE IN DRIED MUSHROOMS
The commercial trade in dried porcini existed as
early as the 17th century in Italy. It is well
documented for the area of Borgotaro in the
Apennine mountains near Parma (Bellini 1933),
but was surely widespread in other areas. In the
19th century, Italian dried porcini were also
exported to other European countries and even to
America, mainly by Genoese firms (Bertoloni 1867;
Farneti 1892). Very carefully crafted and sealed
packages were used to export the dried mushrooms:
cellophane bags, tin boxes of different sizes, or
compressed parcels which were particularly suitable
for their transport (Bellini 1933).
During the 19th century, the sale of dried
mushrooms of many other species was also consid-
erably widespread within Italy, and episodes of
poisoning caused by dried mushrooms were appar-
ently more frequent in that era than now. In
response to this problem, retailers were required to
simply forbidden. The homogenization of Italians’
food tastes (as part of the construction of a national
309 SITTA & FLORIANI: GLOBALIZED PORCINI2008]
Southwestern China. Pages 419–426 in R.
Agerer, M. Piepenbring, and P. Blanz, eds.,
Frontiers in Basidiomycote Mycology. Eching,
Zhao, Y.-C., L. Fang, X. Zhang, W.-H. Zuo, S.-H.
Li, R. Li, H.-M. Chai, and M.-H. Zhong. 2006.
The Structural Characteristics of ITS-Region of
Boletus edulis (Boletoueae) in Yunnan. Acta
Botanica Yunnanica 28:575–580.
Zuchegna, A. 2005. Dati Analitici su Import ed
Export di Funghi e Tartufi. Alberi e Territorio
321 SITTA & FLORIANI: GLOBALIZED PORCINI2008]
SCIENTIFIC AND ITALIAN COMMON NAMES OF THE MUSHROOM SPECIES CITED IN THE PAPER. THE
NAMES CITED IN PARENTHESES ARE SELECTED SYNONYMS COMMONLY FOUND IN POPULAR
Scientific NameItalian Common Name
Agrocybe aegerita (F. Briganti) Singer (= Pholiota aegerita [F. Briganti] Quél.)
Amanita caesarea (Scop.) Pers.
Armillaria mellea (Vahl) P. Kumm.
Boletus aereus Bull.
Boletus aestivalis (Paulet) Fr.
Boletus edulis Bull.
Boletus mamorensis Redeuilh
Boletus pinophilus Pilát & Dermek
Boletus regius Krombh.
Boletus separans Peck
Boletus variipes Peck
Boletus violaceofuscus W.F. Chiu
Calocybe gambosa (Fr.) Donk (= Tricholoma georgii [L.] Quél.)
Cantharellus cibarius Fr.
Craterellus lutescens (Pers.) Fr. (= Cantharellus lutescens [Pers.] Fr.)
Craterellus cornucopioides (L.) Pers.
Hydnum repandum L.
Lactarius deliciosus (L.) Gray
Lactarius tesquorum Malençon
Leccinum corsicum (Rolland) Singer (= Boletus corsicus Rolland)
Leccinum lepidum (Essette) Quadr. (= Boletus lepidus Essette)
Lentinula edodes (Berk.) Pegler
Lyophyllum fumosum (Pers.) P.D. Orton
Macrolepiota procera (Scop.) Singer (= Lepiota procera [Scop.] Gray)
Marasmius oreades (Bolton) Fr.
Pholiota nameko (T. Itô) S. Ito & S. Imai
Pleurotus cornucopiae (Paulet) Rolland
Pleurotus eryngii (DC.) Quél.
Pleurotus ostreatus (Jacq.) P. Kumm.
Polyporus corylinus Mauri
Suillus granulatus (L.) Kuntze
Suillus luteus (L.) Roussel (= Boletus luteus L.)
Tricholoma effocatellum (Mauri) Lanzi
Tricholoma portentosum (Fr.) Quél.
Tricholoma terreum (Schaeff.) P. Kumm.
Tuber himalayense B.C. Zhang & Minter
Tuber indicum Cooke & Massee
Tuber magnatum Pico
Volvariella volvacea (Bull.) Singer
ovolo buono, cocco
prugnolo, spignolo, fungo di S. Giorgio
trombetta da morto
mazza da tamburo
sfogatello del nocchio
tartufo bianco di Alba e di Acqualagna
tartufo nero di Norcia
fungo del muschio
322 ECONOMIC BOTANY [VOL 62