Hunting for Morels at Eagle Ridge Resort

Editor’s Note: No, it’s not morel season anymore! (The season typically runs from early-to-mid April through mid-June in the U.S.) And it should be noted the morel hunt/dinner is currently not a standard group event due to limited availability of the mushrooms.

However, Eagle Ridge Resort has a dedicated team that works with groups to put together innovative teambuilding experiences and this post highlights that.

Eagle Ridge Resort invited Meetings Today to check out its facilities and be part of its Morel Media Event, from May 14-15, 2014, in Galena, Illinois. The Main Lodge, which holds 15,000 square feet of event space that was recently renovated and IACC-certified, can accommodate conferences, meetings and banquets of up to 300 guests. The property is especially well-suited for groups that are looking to enjoy a retreat-style environment, away from big city distractions.

Lake Galena

My drive to Galena clocked in at one-hour and 45 minutes from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The city is located just three hours northwest of Chicago (minus traffic), and is a popular drive-to-spot for Midwest markets. As I drove closer to the resort, I somehow managed to miss an exit and took on some winding roads through quaint farmland, perhaps a little more peaceful than the normal drive.

Upon my arrival, I was whisked over to one of the banquet rooms in the Main Lodge at Eagle Ridge, where I was immediately greeted with some wines to sample (OK, so this gig does have its perks). This was followed up by a three course morel dinner put together by the resort’s culinary team, which did an excellent job preparing meals for our smaller group throughout the short visit.

For the culinary-inclined, the meal line-up was as follows (all paired with wine and incorporating morels and other mushrooms that had been gathered on-property, prior to the dinner):

For starters – Amuse Bouche – Cucumber – Ginger; 1st Course – Monte Amore Cheese – Watercress, Spring Garlic, Lamb Bacon; 2nd Course – Bluegill – Spring Peas, Cattails, Lemon Balm; Intermezzo – Barb’s Orchard Green Apple Sorbet; 3rd Course – Iowa Pork – Heirloom Carrots, Wild Asparagus, Pine Needle, Pheasant Back Mushroom-Potato (pictured below).

And finally, dessert – Dark Chocolate, Black Walnuts, Rhubarb, alongside Starbucks Coffee infused with Tangerine, Caramel and Milk Chocolate.

Iowa Pork and Morels

Hungry yet? I am just thinking about it! Kudos to the chefs!

As it turns out, I was not only invited to the property to eat (though my media group mostly consisted of Chicago food writers), I also was here to get my hands a little dirty – and hunt morels!

After a good night’s rest in my rustic hotel room overlooking the courtyard, I awoke and dressed in jeans, long-sleeves and a supplied hat, for some morel hunting. One thing I didn’t realize was that morel season tends to coincide with tick season! Thankfully the resort had bug spray on hand.

We split up into two groups, each led by a chef, which carried us over to the proper location for hunting morels in the more forested areas, just off the road, with tall grass and fallen trees. I had more luck finding ticks after wading through some tall brush than morel mushrooms, but after switching up locations, my group was able to track down several plump morels. Success!

The activity required communication, concentration and a keen eye, and even got a little competitive between everyone who was searching the ground. During the morel hunt I got a taste for the resort’s outdoorsy setting, which would be an ideal fit for group teambuilding and retreats.

The next day I had some time to check out the nearby city of Galena (about a 15 minute drive from the resort), which has been voted as ‘One of America’s Best Small Towns’ by multiple publications. My stops included a free guided tour of the Ulysses S. Grant Home, a brief visit to Blaum Bros. Distilling Co. and an epic dining experience at Galena Brewing Co. that involved a 2 lb. pretzel and cheese paired with a Fu Manchu Double IPA.

Downtown Galena

I’d highly recommend incorporating a visit to Galena into the agenda for attendees, if time allows, after the meetings and teambuilding are done for the day at Eagle Ridge Resort. My visit to the property was over all too soon, but I can see why it’s a favorite weekend escape for many Midwesterners to both relax and take care of business.

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