Matt Golinski discovers a local producer who is putting the fun into fungi.
Remember when your choice of potatoes at the shops was dirty or washed?
Or lettuce was iceberg or, well, iceberg?
Mushrooms were round and white, or if you went to one of those fancy places they sometimes had the big flat ones.
The array of obscure fruit and vegetables available to us as cooks these days hasn’t changed because someone suddenly invented them, most have existed for thousands of years.
It’s our interest in food and willingness to learn and experiment that has driven small producers to grow all those unusual ingredients for us to enjoy and satisfy our culinary curiosities.
A quick trip down any major supermarket produce aisle is evidence that there’s plenty of budding chefs out there who know their pomegranates from their persimmons and are prepared to give anything a go.
Specialty mushrooms are a great example of how our appetite to experience new and exciting flavours and textures is creating a demand for a product which most consumers are only just discovering.
Very clever and dedicated gourmet mushroom growers are popping up across the country, supplying chefs and the general public with vibrant, freshly cut fungi to excite their discerning palates and expand their gastronomic palettes.
Scott Andrews from Tagigan Road Produce in Goomboorian is one of those clever people.
Scott left his job working in the oil and gas industry about 12 months ago knowing he wanted to grow something, but not really knowing what – until he stumbled on the fascinating world of mycelium, and after months of research and arduous trial and often heartbreaking error, he now supplies some of the coast’s best restaurants and providores with Oyster, Shimeji and Lion’s Mane mushrooms on a weekly basis.
And a technical background and good practical skills are just what you need to become a successful mushroom grower. It’s not quite as simple as throwing some sawdust and spores into a bag and waiting for harvest day.
A quality food source, pedantic sterilisation, proper airflow and consistent temperature and humidity
all play a part in the month-long process it takes to produce a crop.
The result of all that careful preparation and constant monitoring is an alien looking fungi that appears so alive you almost expect it to breathe. Bright pinks, shiny silver greys and fluffy, shaggy golf ball sized nuggets all cook up into different unique textures of their own.
A relatively short shelf life means these type of mushrooms are most often sold direct to the consumer or into restaurants, shops or markets where there is a high turnover and an established foodie audience.
The most common varieties you’ll see being cultivated commercially in Australia are Oyster, Shimeji, Shiitake
and Lion’s Mane, with some growers having good results with Chestnut and King Mushrooms as well.
And while we don’t have the same access to wild foraged mushrooms like Porcini and Chanterelles that are a part of the food culture of Europe, we do see small amounts of Pine and Slippery Jack mushrooms in the Autumn months coming from pine forests in places like the Blue Mountains in New South Wales and the Grampians in Victoria.
Australia also boasts a very successful Black Truffle industry, with farms in Western Australia, Tasmania, and the ACT leading the way and even set to eclipse the production volumes of their countries of origin in the next few years.
When it comes to cooking mushrooms of any kind, the secret to getting the best out of them is to do as little as possible to them.
Sauteed in butter with garlic, a squeeze of lemon and a sprinkle of fresh herbs is the perfect way to appreciate their flavour and texture.
Simple pasta and rice dishes are also a great way to let them shine and be the star of a meal.
Most importantly, buy them super fresh and use them quickly.
There’s a lot of research being done on the potential health benefits of mushrooms, and there are businesses producing drops and powders from different varieties which may help with all sorts of ailments.
And while it’s well documented that they lower blood pressure due to high levels of potassium and improve our immune system with their anti-inflammatory properties, the overwhelming benefit that we can be guaranteed to get from mushrooms is that they boost our happiness!
You’ll find Tagigan Road Produce mushrooms at Pomona’s Little Pantry, Tewantin Market Garden, Gingers Farm Fresh, Coolum Farm Fresh, Farmer and Sun, Ross Creek Store, Tin Can Bay Fruit and Veg, Cooloola Berries and Cooran Community Store.
Keep an eye out for them on the menu at your favourite restaurant and hopefully after reading this, the list of stockists will grow, just like Scott’s little treasures!