: : : TASTES OF TASMANIA

 

Fabulous fungi: Part II

Huon Valley Mushrooms received a R&D Start grant from AusIndustry to fund a three-year development project for techniques to grow this species. The ultimate aim is Matsutake production in a host-free environment; this would enable year round controlled production within the Glen Huon facility.

Matsutake mushrooms can retail in Japan for $2500 a kilogram and because supplies from the wild overseas have diminished significantly over recent years the prospects of commercial production are even more seductive.

Producing these fabulous fungi is only part of the story. Mushrooms are the third most valuable horticultural crop behind potatoes and tomatoes. They are also one of the most perishable. They need to be kept cool and handled correctly from farm gate to the supermarket. For example, Agriculture Victoria research has provided the mushroom industry with a set of temperature guidelines for handling specialty musrooms once they have been harvested, incorporated into HVM’s quality assurance systems.

They will experience a number of flushes and yield many kilograms of mushrooms before spent compost growing bags are off-loaded

Production of speciality mushrooms in Australia is a tiny percentage of the total mushroom grown here and falls short of consumer demand, so must be supplemented by imports. HVM is just one of a handful of speciality mushroom producers in Australia, but its success to date augers well for the future.

White and brown mushroom production takes around 11-12 weeks from the preparation of the compost to first harvest. The compost is made from wheat straw and organic material together with various other ingredients and water, left to ferment for some 7-12 days and then pasteurised to kill any competitor. Spore, the seed of the mushroom, is used to produce grain spawn which is added to the compost and covered lightly with a pasteurised soil, peat and limestone mix. This process is known as casting. The spawn multiplies in the compost and produces hythae. These are not roots of the mushroom, but are equivalent to the roots, trunk, branches and leaves of a fruit tree.

After a period of 10-14 days the first minute mushrooms called pinheads appear. Within a further 4-7 days they are ready to be hand-harvested. They will experience a number of flushes and yield many kilograms of mushrooms before spent compost growing bags are off-loaded to plant nurseries for recycling as nutritional soil conditioner.

If we were in Europe during the autumn, there would be ‘safety bureaux' in the forests, or specialist pharmacists in town to advise on the safety of our bounty

These cultivated mushrooms are sold in three grades.The small unopened and delicately flavoured button mushrooms are usually sold at a premium. A cup mushroom is when the button has been allowed to grow further and the membrane is just beginning to open and expose the gills (where the spores grow). When the mushroom cap has matured and expanded so that the gills are fully exposed, they are known as ‘open’ or ‘flat’ mushrooms and have a richer, more pronounced flavour than the juveniles. Button mushrooms became cups, even when refrigerated, so it is best to buy a few at a time and store them in a paper bag.

It is worth remembering the disproportionate production time, handling and yields between the ubiquitous white or brown mushroom and the more exotic shiitake and the like, when querying the disparity of price at the checkout.

When picking fungi in the wild there is no hard and fast test to determine which is edible and which is a toadstool. If we were in Europe during the autumn, there would be ‘safety bureaux’ in the forests, or specialist pharmacists in town to advise on the safety of our bounty.

Unless you have experience in identifying the fungi collected in the wild it would be best to avoid their consumption. There is an ever increasing variety of cultivated mushrooms available from which to choose, and we can be certain they are safe, hygienic and full of nutritional value. ¶


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