We could say that Rubén Monforte was practically born in a field of mushrooms. Nature has always formed a big part of Rubén’s life and, even as a young boy, one of his favourite things to do was to go out into the forest with a basket and forage for mushrooms. As the years went by, these little fungi became more and more important until he became a professional mushroom hunter, and he has now been collaborating with Laumont for more than 20 years. If you’d like to find out more about what life is like for a professional mushroom hunter, read on!
First off, why don’t you tell us a little about yourself?
My name is Rubén Monforte, and I’m 40 years old. I’m from Gúdar-Javalambre in Teruel, Spain, and I mainly work in the forestry sector, bringing wood down from the mountains for a sawmill.
As well as working in the wood sector, you’re also passionate about mushrooms. How long have you been working in the mushroom industry?
I’ve been into mushrooms pretty much from the day I learnt to walk. It was my mother who got me started initially. I remember a story that my mother always used to tell me. She said that one day she gave me a basket and let me off up the mountain on my own. She said, “Come back home when you’ve filled the basket”. And a few hours later, I came back with a basket full of mushrooms saying, “Look, Mum, I’ve found some red pine mushrooms”. And she checked the basket and there wasn’t a single red pine... You see, I started so early in life that I wasn’t even to correctly identify a red pine mushroom.
Now you work professionally in the mushrooms sector. Can you tell us what life is like for a professional mushroom hunter?
When it’s mushroom season, I ask for a sabbatical from work. I have an agreement with my boss, so there’s no problem. When there are mushrooms to be picked, I go and pick mushrooms.
What are the most common mushrooms in your area?
In spring, it’s mainly St. George’s and Morchella. Then, in autumn, there is a greater variety, but mostly red pine mushrooms.
Do you feel lucky to be able to work in the mushroom sector?
Of course! For me, it doesn’t feel like work to go hunting mushrooms. I mean, it can be tiring going foraging for mushrooms day after day... but since I like it so much, it’s more like a hobby for me. And I also earn money from it... so what more could I want? [laughs]
What do you like most about being a mushroom hunter?
The uncertainty. At night, when I go to sleep, I’ll start thinking about things like, “Where should I go tomorrow?”, “I haven’t been to that place” or “Have more appeared since I last went there?”... What I like is that I don’t know what I’m going to find the next day.
Your two Jobs are intimately linked to the forest. Could you ever see yourself working somewhere that wasn’t in touch with nature?
I would find it impossible to work indoors, in an enclosed space. I always work outdoors, in nature.
What’s it like having such a physical job and being surrounded by nature every day?
Having a physical job can be tough because you come home at night and you’re shattered. But being outdoors all day makes up for it. One day it might rain and another day it might be sunny. Each day is different and I enjoy that.
What’s a normal day like for a mushroom hunter?
I get up early when it’s still dark, have breakfast and go straight out. If it’s autumn, I’ll go to the pine forests, and if it’s spring, I go to the meadows. And I don’t stop to eat until I get home.
And how do you sell the mushrooms afterwards?
I bring the mushrooms home from the mountain completely clean, with no earth on them or anything. I handle them very carefully because otherwise, they lose value. Once I get home, I sort them into boxes ready to sell. I always take to Jesús, who works for Laumont. He sorts them, weighs them, gives me a receipt and that’s it.
Do you remember how and when you started working with Laumont?
I’ve always sold to Jesús and he’s been working with Laumont for about 25 years.
Twenty-five years selling mushrooms to the same person! What is it that you appreciate most about Jesús, as a buyer for Laumont?
It’s mainly that he’s always there for you. There are many other suppliers I could sell to if I wanted to. But, for example, when the season starts, you might go and collect half a kilo. No one is going to buy that off you, but if you go to Jesús, he will. And it’s the same at the end of the season.
Over the course of the mushroom foraging season, I can collect many kilos, and anyone would be willing to buy them from me. Some might even pay more, but it’s not worth it. The important thing for me is that he’s there every day.
What significant changes have you seen in the mushroom world in recent years?
In the past, there weren’t as many people looking for mushrooms. There was a lot less competition. That’s the main thing because I don’t think much else has changed. The way we forage for mushrooms is pretty much the same. When I was little, it was unusual to see people in the mountains looking for mushrooms. Now it’s unusual not to see someone.
And what do you think the future will look like?
They’re starting to set up controlled mushroom-picking sites now. It seems that they’re starting to respect nature a little more these days, and more and more people are now going to these controlled sites. People are becoming more conscientious. If you go to the forest to pick something, you need to pay, just like I need to pay to park when I go to the city.
What are these controlled sites like, and how do they work?
Controlled mushroom-picking sites are specific areas where people can’t just walk around and pick mushrooms. They have to get permission first, whether it’s a public or private site.
Public sites take the money they receive and invest it in clearing tracks, installing rubbish bins and making other improvements to the forest. The private ones are a way for the landowners to make some money while having some control over the amount of mushrooms picked.
What message would you like to send to future generations of mushroom hunters?
More than anything else, I’d like to tell them to respect nature. It’s important to care for the mountains and fields as if they were one whole and treat them with respect. That’s all.
Many thanks for your time, Rubén.