Disclosure: We attended courtesy of Australian Mushroom Growers and Prahran Market.
On one Saturday recently, Alastair and I trotted up to Prahran Market at 7.30am.
Now, I like markets and all, but I don’t like them so much that I’d be there that early on a weekend. But I like mushrooms, so the reason for the early start on this particular day was a visit to a mushroom farm – Bulla Mushrooms.
I’ve never put much thought into how mushrooms are produced, so it was fascinating when we arrived at the farm in Diggers Rest. Bulla Mushrooms produces white button, cup and flat mushrooms, and have been doing so for over 27 years.
Do you know how mushrooms are commercially farmed? If you look back at the first photo, that’s one of their growing rooms showing the Dutch shelf system. They have nine rooms in total and the temperature and humidity controlled rooms all contain galvanised shelves that are five beds high.
At the beginning of the process (which takes something like 6 weeks from start to finish), inoculated compost is spread over the empty shelves via a conveyor belt and covered with a layer of peat moss. The moss is important so the mushrooms fruit, instead of growing in the compost in a vegetative state.
After the peat moss is laid, it’s watered, and then the temperature in the room is constantly lowered to stimulate autumn conditions. The rooms are kept dark because mushrooms don’t need light to grow (may as well save on electricity), and after a while this white stuff, called mycelium, starts to appear.
Eventually mushroom pins begin to grow, and these turn into baby mushrooms. The first flush of mushrooms are picked over a period of about a week, and then there’s a second flush in the following week.
Once the mushrooms appear they grow incredibly quickly, so as soon as they reach a certain size all efforts go into picking. They can double in size in just 24 hours, which can mean the difference between a button mushroom and a flat mushroom, so it’s a flurry of activity and can be all hands on deck.
All mushrooms are hand picked and sorted into boxes depending on their size.
Right, I have a ton of photos of the mushrooms, but loooook they’re so cute and fresh.
Once a room has been picked, the boxes go into a cooling room before being shipped out. Bulla Mushrooms mostly supply to the central markets in Melbourne and they’re one of the smaller producers here, producing about 10 tonnes a week.
The rooms themselves are completely cleaned and then “cooked out” – where the temperature of the room is raised to 70°C for 24 hours to kill off any unwanted micro-organisms. Once that’s done and the room has been emptied and cleaned, it’s ready to start the whole process again.
It was fascinating to see the different stages of the growing process.
After the mushroom tour we went back to Prahran Market for lunch in the Blanco Kitchen. The following dishes showed how versatile mushrooms can be.
Smoked tofu and apple wrapped in daikon with enoki, sprouts cashew mayo and coconut amino
Mushroom espresso, porcini consomme, bay infused foam
Truffled polenta chip with reggiano, autumnal mushrooms and crispy sage
Pan-fried gnocchi with oyster, Swiss and king brown mushrooms, roasted chestnuts and taleggio
This was particularly delicious. If this was sold as a dish somewhere, I would definitely buy it.
What a good day, I loved the farm visit. I also learnt something really interesting about mushrooms that I hadn’t known before – did you know that mushrooms can be a good source of vitamin D? They produce it naturally after being exposed to UV light for a couple of seconds. You can do this yourself with mushrooms you buy – just put them out in the sun for an hour.
And you only need to eat a small serve of light exposed mushrooms to obtain the daily recommended dose of vitamin D.
Wow mushrooms. What can’t they do? (Photosynthesis.)