Mushrooms are such a wonderful and versatile ingredient. You can roast them, throw them on the BBQ , eat them raw, steam them – the world is your oyster! (Enter Mushroom PUN#1- sorry!)
They are incredibly delicious, and the thing I love about them the most – is they are soooo pretty!
But have you ever wondered how they are grown? And where?
The process of growing mushrooms is quite unique! You don’t need mush room (PUN#2 – sorry again) and they can be kept in the dark so you don’t need to worry about changing weather conditions or acres of swiss brown paddocks. But is it really that portabel -la?
Today, I am speaking with Rachel from Urban Valley Mushrooms, who will shed some light on what it is like to be an urban mushroom farmer in the middle of Fortitude Valley in Brisbane.
So button up, grab a cup of tea, sit flat and let’s learn a thing or two about the wonderful world of mushrooms so you can shitake away with some new skills and appreciation of this pine ingredient!
(okay – I promise I will stop with the puns now!)
“The Oxford Companion to Food” notes that mushrooms have been around for a while – probably since prehistoric times.
Mushrooms, including my favourite type -truffles, were prized in ancient Greece and Rome. Cynthia Bertelsen, in her book “Mushroom: A Global History,” says that both Aristotle and Roman philosopher Galen wrote about mushrooms and that shiitake mushrooms were probably first cultivated in China and Japan as early as 600 CE.
Mushrooms are the hero of so many different cuisines around the world, such as the wonderful Russian mushroom-barley soup or beef Stroganoff, mushroom duxelles – used in classic French cooking as stuffing, so many different Italian dishes, and of course, mushrooms play a big part in Chinese cuisine.
Edible mushrooms come in so many different sizes, shapes and colours and can be available both fresh and dried, depending on the variety. Although often referred to as a vegetable, mushrooms are actually a fungus. The name ‘mushroom’ has been given to over 38,000 varieties of fungus that possess the same threadlike roots and cap. But not all mushrooms are friendly! There is a long association with poisonings and accidental deaths from mushrooms, none more famous than the death of Holy Roman Emperor King Charles VI, who is said to have eaten an “amanita” or “death cap” mushroom which changed the destiny of Europe.
Scaly flame cap mushroom
Blue shimeji mushrooms
Edible mushrooms also have been praised for their medicinal properties thanks to their heavy dose of protein, potassium and polysaccharides, which contribute to healthy immune function. Mushrooms are being increasingly researched and used for their important health benefits, with a number of varieties demonstrating medicinal properties. So it is important to know what you are looking for – especially if you are foraging for wild mushrooms as so many varieties of mushrooms are not safe for human consumption.
In cooking, mushrooms pair brilliantly with dairy such as cheese and sour cream, work really well with all kinds of meat, and can stand on their own in delicious vegetarian dishes. If you are wanting to reduce your meat consumption, mushrooms are a great place to start!
Dried mushrooms are also a great pantry staple, having a much more concentrated flavour than fresh mushrooms. They need to be reconstituted in liquid before use, but the soaking liquid also makes a great stock for soups or risottos.
So, with a few mushroom nerd-facts under my belt, I was keen to learn more about the world of mushroom farming and get some important tips and tricks on getting the most out of this beautiful ingredient!
Urban Valley Farm
Urban Valley Farm
Tell us about Urban Valley Mushrooms
After arriving in Australia in 2014 from California to complete my masters in Molecular biology, I ended up establishing my home in the hospitality industry. For the last 2 years I have worked as the Brisbane rep for Suncoast, a quality fruit and veg supplier, providing Brisbane’s restaurants with their fresh produce. Moving from a biology background to produce/farming seemed natural for me because I’ve always seen food as science and science as cooking. Urban Valley mushrooms was then established in mid 2021 with my partner in an abandoned taxi depot in the Valley. Ever the scientist, once we tested the waters there and it all seemed to work, we moved into an unused warehouse off Brunswick St in the heart of the Valley to really kick things off.
What do you love about mushrooms?
I love how unique every varietal is, with there being a whole crazy world outside the standard button mushroom. Also once the mushroom starts fruiting they literally grow before your eyes!
If you could only eat 1 type of mushroom for the rest of your life what would it be?
It woulf be Shimeji (blue). They visually are stunning and we all eat with our eyes! They’re also super versatile! The cap is soft and delicious like an oyster while the stem has a textural crunch.
Lion’s mane mushrooms
What led you to setting up a mushroom farm in the middle of the city in Brisbane?
Early 2021 I noticed a consistent lack of mushrooms available to restaurants, and when there where mushrooms available, they were made with imported ingredients and of a poor quality, covered in single use plastics. I believed I could offer a more consistent, superior and eco friendly product.
What are some of the challenges and benefits of running an inner-city farm?
Challenges: We love being in the Valley and it is our home but finding a viable affordable space was not easy!
Benefits: Location, location, location! We are at the heart of the Brisbane restaurant industry surrounded by the amazing restaurants we supply in Brisbane. This gives us the opportunity to showcase ourselves to our local chefs through farm tours and create that connection.
What is the process of growing mushrooms? How long does it take? And what is involved?
I could talk all day about this and have been known to… There are so many variables. It can be as simple as buying a grow at home kit all the way to cloning your own. For us, generally we inoculate a wood based substrate and allow the mycelium to colonise for 2-3 weeks. From here we put it in our high humidity, temperature and fresh air regulated rooms for about 10 days. Then we harvest!
Do mushrooms have a particular seasonality? Or can you grow them all year round?
They definitely do. While they are grown year around there are definitely varieties that love the heat such as pink and yellow oyster mushrooms and those that prefer the cold such as enoki and king brown.
When buying mushrooms what should I look out for? How can I tell if a mushroom is good or not?
If you’re wanting gourmet mushrooms, try buying from a local market and chatting to the farmer. It really is the only way to get a great product. What is sold at the supermarkets is so far removed from the grower that it probably isn’t worth it. If it’s plastic wrapped, it can get soggy which isn’t nice. If there’s some fuzzy white stuff starting to grow on it, don’t worry it’s just mycelium not mould, however that does mean the mushroom is showing its age.
How can I store my mushrooms most effectively?
Firstly mushrooms need fresh air so no air tight containers or plastic wrapping. Ideally if purchased from the market, keep it in the box they are in and it should be ok. Otherwise a container with no lid and wax paper or chux on top and underneath. In a pinch, paper towel placed on top is ok but not underneath because the mushrooms may try to eat the paper…
The great debate – to rinse or not rinse my mushrooms? How do I clean them properly? And do I need to peel them?
For gourmet mushrooms like ours, you may just want to brush off any fragments of substrate if there are any. Its not dirt or anything nasty, its just fiber, so don’t stress too much about it. I also wouldn’t rinse mushrooms with water because you don’t want them to soak up the unnecessary moisture. Peeling is unnecessary too. We want the texture right? Although we grow our mushrooms in a clean environment, if you’re worried any potential pathogens, the cooking process takes care of the rest.
What is your favourite way to use mushrooms in cooking?
Cooked over hot coals on the hibachi is out favourite. Like any beautiful produce, the simpler the better. Just fire +butter/oil + salt/pepper
What is the most interesting way you have tried mushrooms in a dish that was unexpected?
Our chef friend Josie from Yavanna restaurant in Paddington once did a play on crab ravioli using Lions Mane in the filling. It incredibly tasted and felt just like crab! In one word it was epic!!!
Finally, what is your favourite food to growk at?
For me I love the story and passion behind good quality produce, that when treated right, it evokes a wholesome healthy nutritiously satisfying to the core feel… or alternatively I cant pass up anything covered in winter black truffle!! ????
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