Select fresh morels individually to insure quality. Smell morels before buying them; they should have a woodsy, earthy fragrance. Choose morels that are very firm and springy to the touch, with no soft spots. Reject any that are dry or moldy.

* Inspect the honeycombed crevices of the caps to be sure that they are not infested with worms or insects.

* Opt for dried morels when fresh ones are out of season. With their wonderfully intense flavor, they are an excellent alternative. Fragrance is key when choosing dried morels; they should have a deep, smoky, woodsy scent.

* Buy dried morels that are small; they tend to be the most delicious.

* Check the bottoms of bags of prepackaged dried morels; avoid those with a lot of broken pieces or a powdery residue.

* Mail-order fresh or dried morels through Marché aux Delices (888-547-5471); for dried ones only, call Epicurean Specialty (800-500-0065).

--Lily Barbiero