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Agaricus campestris, more commonly known by the name of champignon or “meadow mushroom”, is a European species of mushroom, characterized by a white cap, a short stature, pale flesh, pink or brown gills, a budding habitat and microscopic characteristics (including its spores). It is a well known mushroom, favorably known also in Italy.
Characteristics of champignons
Agaricus campestris, or champignon, is the most commonly eaten wild mushroom in good parts of the old continent, including Italy. Considering that it is found in the meadows grazed by sheep, cattle or horses, it is not uncommon to come across these specimens even in large quantities, especially in summer and early autumn, although not every year.
In any case, it is not wise to simplify the identification of these mushrooms, and to treat the color of their cap as the only significant feature when identifying these types of specimens. Some champignons, for example, are smooth and almost white, while others are rather rough, with a dark brown flaky cap.
Champignons are widespread in much of Europe, but they can actually boast an almost worldwide distribution. In fact, they are also found in much of North Africa, Asia (including India, China and Japan), and in the United States, Canada and Australia.
Originally described in 1753 by Linnaeus with the scientific binomial Agaricus campestris, the champignon still retains its scientific name. Since then some rarer varieties have been defined as the most common one, but its scientific name has remained to be directly linked to what we have briefly described above. In some magazines and in different sites, champignons can also be described with other names such as Pratella campestris (L.), Psalliota campestris (L.) Quél. and Psalliota flocculosa Rea.
In particular, for a long time the 'real mushrooms' that are now registered as Agaricus species have received the generic name of Psalliota, derived from a Greek word that refers to their stem rings, so much so that in some more ancient texts we can actually find the name Psalliota campestris, once a popular synonym of Agaricus campestris, the field mushroom or champignon.
The specific epithet campestris, chosen by Linnaeus in 1753 and has remained unchanged until today, it derives from the Latin word “campo”.
Generally when we refer to this mushroom we recall an edible mushroom, which is actually the 'type species' of the genus Agaricus.
THE champignons they are healthy and very tasty, provided they are well cooked and eaten in moderation (not as a daily dish!). It is unwise to collect food from the grassy edges of busy roads, because the soil, vegetation and fungicidal organisms of these places can be polluted by toxins emitted from gasoline exhaust or spills.
Read also Amanita caesarea: a brief guide to this widespread mushroom
How to identify it
As always, we are pleased to remember when we talk about mushrooms, theidentification of the champignon it must be done exclusively through an expert who can ascertain the characteristics of the fungus in question.
In any case, as far as the cap is concerned, the hats of champignons have a diameter between 3 and 10 centimeters, of a creamy white color, sometimes developing small scales as they mature with the passage of time. Usually the brim remains inverted or slightly rolled even when the hat has fully expanded in its width. Thick flesh is white, sometimes turning slightly pink when cut, but never turning yellow.
As for the gills, initially deep pink in color, they then become dark brown and eventually almost black with the ripening of the fruiting body. Older specimens can be infested with worms, which enter the pulp of the cap right through the "gills". Therefore, careful inspection is necessary and it is not recommended to include very old specimens in collections that are intended for food.
Moving on to the stem, it is 3 to 10 centimeters high and 1 to 2 centimeters in diameter. The stem is white and smooth, above the single ring, delicate and a little scaly. It is more or less parallel and does not yellow when cut. The ring itself is ephemeral, and when the fruiting body is fully developed, there is rarely much evidence of its historical presence.
The champignon grows on the grass soil in pastures, playgrounds and parks, generally in the period between June and October.
The mushroom can be confused with similar species, such as Agaricus bitorquis, the "sidewalk" mushroom, very similar but with a double thin ring, and able to prefer mainly dry and compacted places next to paths. Agaricus arvensis is generally a little larger than the champignon and, although initially having a similar white cap, when ripe it takes on a yellowish hue.
Champignon is an excellent edible species and can be used in any recipe that requires cultivated mushrooms. It is excellent in risottos and omelettes, and is certainly tasty enough to prepare tasty soups or sauces to be served with meat dishes.
Finally, we conclude with the renewed invitation to never eat mushrooms collected from the soil without first trying to clarify their origin and their characteristics with an expert who can avoid any kind of easy misunderstanding. Only in this way will it be possible to ensure that you can take advantage of all the good-natured culinary characteristics of this delicious ingredient without any fear of toxicity.