The family Russulaceae is considered an iconic lineage of mostly mushroom-forming basidiomycetes due to their importance as edible mushrooms in many parts of the world, and their ubiquity as ectomycorrhizal symbionts in both temperate and tropical forested biomes. Although much research has been focused on this group, a comprehensive or cohesive synthesis by which to understand the functional diversity of the group has yet to develop. Interest in ectomycorrhizal fungi, of which Russulaceae is a key lineage, is prodigious due to the important roles they play as plant root mutualists in ecosystem functioning, global carbon sequestration, and a potential role in technology development toward environmental sustainability. As one of the most species-diverse ectomycorrhizal lineages, the Russulaceae has recently been the focus of a dense sampling and genome sequencing initiative with the Joint Genome Institute aimed at untangling their functional roles and testing whether functional niche specialization exists for independent lineages of ectomycorrhizal fungi. Here we present a review of important studies on this group to contextualize what we know about its members’ evolutionary history and ecosystem functions, as well as to generate hypotheses establishing the Russulaceae as a valuable experimental system.