You never know who you might meet at a Fall Home Show and Sustainability and Outdoor Living Expo. We got to know Thomas Weipert of St. Joseph, Mo., who has earned the title “The Mushroom King.”

And why not? He’s been honing his mushroom-hunting skills since he was 3 years old and is now a certified Wild Mushroom Identification Expert and a chef for his online business, Missouri Mushroom Market. There he sells fresh and dehydrated mushrooms as well as a few packaged products including mushroom soup and gravy mixes and mushroom seasoned salt. In 2011 he even registered “The Mushroom King” with the state of Missouri.

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He and his wife, Colette (The Mushroom Queen), were at the show Oct. 5-6 to sell their products and conduct seminars about fungi. Colette is an instructor at Missouri Western State University.

“My dad took me on mushroom hunts,” Thomas said of his early experiences. “He would tell me to be very quiet or the mushrooms would go back into the ground.”

The 50-something has made a career of sniffing out wild morels and other types of mushrooms.

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“It’s like Easter egg hunting for adults,” he said. “Through the years, I’ve learned about the fascinating relationship of mushrooms to trees, the best weather conditions for hunting and the best places to find them.”

Mushroom foraging has an 11-month season in the United States.

“December is the off season,” Thomas said. “When my wife is not teaching, we spend weeks in the woods foraging mushrooms to sustain our business.”

Though Weipert loves all types of fresh mushrooms, he enjoys dehydrated mushrooms more.

“I use fresh mushrooms when I can, and I dehydrate extras that I’ve harvested,” he said. “Dehydration intensifies the flavor of mushrooms and can be kept for use in soups, sauces and casseroles.”

His advice for rehydrating dried mushrooms is to use the base liquid of the recipe you’re making instead of water.

“If I’m making a red sauce for pasta, I would rehydrate the mushrooms in tomato juice or the juice from a can of tomatoes,” he said. “As the mushrooms soak in the liquid, they release more of their earthy flavor. So if I’m making a cream soup, I’d soak the mushrooms in milk used for making the dish.”

Weipert offers a couple of cooking tips:

• Do not eat raw morel mushrooms: “If you eat morels and get an upset stomach or diarrhea, it’s usually because they weren’t cooked thoroughly,” he says. Morels must be cooked because they contain trace amounts of hydrazine, he says, which won’t kill you in small amounts but can make you sick.

• Frying is not the only way to prepare morels: Frying them coated with a little flour may be the standard way of eating this treat, but they are delicious when cooked other ways. “Add them to a stir-fry. They are wonderful when added to a salad,” he says. “And if you have too many morels to eat fresh, dry them and make a soup or sauce. The morels become sweeter with more flavor when dried.”

Weipert is an advocate for the rich nutrition found in mushrooms.

“They’re low in calories and fat,” he said. “They even have some protein and are a good source of vitamin D.”

His wife nodded in agreement and said, “We should be eating mushrooms every day.”

Weipert added, “Plus mushrooms have umami, which means ‘savoriness’ in Japanese. They are a great meat substitute because of umami.”

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Jennifer Bell, secretary for the Pikes Peak Mycological Society, says, “The great thing about edible fungi is that they are the definition of umami. Stick your nose into a glass jar of dried boletus rubriceps and breath in the earth.”

Faculty and chefs at University of Colorado at Colorado Springs would agree: The earthy, savory flavor of mushrooms makes them a tasty meat substitute in blended burgers.

And their nutritional profiles are another plus.

Nanna Meyer, associate professor in health sciences at UCCS, and her students created the SWELL burgers a few years ago. SWELL, which stands for Sustainability, Wellness and Learning, is an initiative at the university that promotes healthy, sustainable eating habits. The burgers use half as much meat and combine it with garlic-infused mushrooms, roasted carrots and beets, Colorado beans, green chile, local cheese and lots of fresh herbs.

Five years ago, when the James Beard Foundation announced the Blended Burger Project, the UCCS culinary team was front and center. The campaign is a challenge for restaurants and food service professionals to serve delicious, nutritious and sustainable burgers blending meat and mushrooms. The UCCS chefs came up with Sweet Home Colorado Burger made with mushrooms and meat. They continue serving similar burger options at their food outlets.

As for cooking with mushrooms, Bell keeps it simple.

“My friend Graham Steinruck is a chef and a star on the mushroom cooking circuit,” she said. “One of my favorite mushrooms is the matsutake. When I found my first matsies, Graham told me that simple is best. No butter, no garlic, no onion, no cream. Slice one in a star pattern and lay the pieces on top of the rice that you’re cooking. Maybe add some high quality soy sauce and some scallions or chives. That’s a wonderful meal.”

Contact the writer: 636-0271.

contact the writer: 636-0271.

Food editor

Food writer for features life section and columnist for Go! Entertainment - Table Talk column

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