Before the French word cèpe was applied to this kind of mushrooms, it was known by the name bolete. The Ancient Greeks called it bolites, and the Romans knew it as boletus, the name that has endured in its botanical classification.
They were popular with the latter, with boleti mentioned in the writings of Seneca, Pliny the Elder, and Martial, who wrote: “It is easy to offer silver and gold, a mantle, or a toga. But to offer boletes, now that is difficult". In the Apicius they are cooked soaked in wine, seasoned with cilantro, and thickened with honey or egg yolk.
Ceps have always been picked. In the 18th century, what is now known as the cèpe in France was also called the "Mushroom of Poland", because when in Lorraine, the former king of Poland, Stanislas Leszczynski, enjoyed them and encouraged their consumption. At the time they were salted and stored in barrels.
The name cèpe de Bordeaux or Bordeaux cep was introduced into the language of gastronomy in the 19th century when Parisians were supplied by growers in the Bordeaux area.
It was only in the 1950s that it became popular in the broader populations, with the word cèpe becoming officially recognized by French law in 1971 to prevent abuses being committed in their sale.
The more yellow the cep, the better it is.
A good cep always has a very firm cap and stalk. If it is soft, it may have worms inside.
Fresh; dried; frozen; preserved in olive oil, white wine, or vinegar; powdered.
Like most mushrooms, ceps are spongy and quickly absorb water when they are being cleaned. They should be rinsed as fast as possible.
A soft bristle brush or even a toothbrush will serve just as well to clean them.
Ceps are prepared raw in slices, and they can be grilled, browned in a pan, baked, or steamed. They can be used in salads, omelets, cream soups, and in preserves, and either crumbed or stuffed.
They can be dried or preserved.
Fresh ceps should be kept in a cool place, laid flat inside a cloth.
They can be preserved by sterilizing, freezing, drying, or immersing them in oil after cooking them in stock.
Like all mushrooms, ceps are low in calories.
They contain a great deal of fiber, protein, and minerals.
More than twenty varieties of cep are listed.
Four species are sold in France:
. Bordeaux cep (Boletus edulis): hazel brown cap, its flesh smells and tastes like hazelnut. It grows widely under trees and is picked between late August and November.
Very young ones are known as bouchon (cork) ceps: their diameter should be no larger than 4 cm.
. Bronzy cep (Boletus aereus): dark chestnut brown or black cap. This is a rarer variety and is mainly found under oak and chestnuts trees. It appears from July through October.
. Summer cep (Boletus aestivalis): light-brown, coffee-colored cap, its flesh is softer and less firm than that of the Bordeaux cep. It mainly grows in the south-east of France under oak, beech, and chestnut trees, and is picked from May through July.
. Pine cep (Boletus pinophilus): mahogany red cap and slimy, it is picked in higher altitude pine forests at the end of the fall.
In Italy: Fungo di Borgotaro ceps have PGI status. They are picked in the Borgo Val di Taro near Parma.
The Bordeaux cep grows spontaneously in many countries: Spain (seta calabaza), Britain (Penny bun), Germany (Steinpilz), and Italy (porcino).
There are many other related varieties of boletes in other countries: Bolet de la Maâmora and Bolet bal are found in French markets imported from Morocco. Boletus chippewaensis is found in North America.
The particularly tasty Eryngii is cultivated in Japan: it is similar to ceps but does not belong to the same family.
Hot summers with stormy rains are conducive to the development of ceps.