Good food & where it comes from – Adelaide Mushrooms

by Amanda McInerney on 21/04/2012

At the invitation of the local mushroom industry, the other day I took a drive up the road to glorious Monarto to check out the home of South Australian mushrooms.  Now, those of you who are familiar with Monarto will know that it is a generally unprepossessing part of the world.  Of course, it is home to the Monarto Zoo whose praises I can never sing highly enough, but aside from that it is barren, windy and charmless – but even this unlovable corner of the world holds it’s secrets.  I’ve gladly written a couple of sponsored posts for Australian Mushroom Growers, to help promote what I think is a tasty and nutritious locally produced food, so I was only too happy to grab the opportunity to learn a little more about the cultivation of this humble fungus.

A couple of kilometres down the road from Monarto Zoo is Adelaide Mushrooms and, believe me, there is nothing humble about this growing facility  - it is simply massive.  Spread over 360 acres of land with 30 growing rooms, 26,000 square metres of growing space and 20,000 square metres of composting space, Adelaide Mushrooms is the second largest mushroom cultivation facility in Australia.  A family owned business run by father and son, Doug and Mark Schirripa, Adelaide Mushrooms can boast an extraordinary level of quality  as a direct result of strict control over their mushroom production.  This quality control begins with the on-site composting of bales of hay and ends with the bar code on each and every box of mushrooms which leaves the premises, giving them direct computer access to which growing room each batch comes from, when it was grown, who picked it and right on down to where the hay came from which provided the compost in which it was grown.

We all know that mushrooms love the dark and the damp and need nutrient rich compost to thrive.  Adelaide Mushrooms begin their mushroom compost with bales of hay which are broken apart and mechanically broken up, sprinkled with a combination of chicken manure and gypsum, then sprayed down to keep them wet.  This mixture is kept on the large open composting floors for a week to begin the composting process.  The temperature of the gently steaming piles on the open floor will reach 55C  before it is moved into enormous 80 metre long closed in bunkers where the temperatures climb up to 85C.  Once the hay and manure has broken down to dark, friable compost it is moved into the massive steaming sheds where it is sterilised before being mixed with rich, dark, ancient Irish peat.  Unfortunately the only local peat available, which comes from the Mt Gambier region of South Australia, is not old enough and also carries undesirable fungal infections.

The heat in the compost builds to 85C in the 80 metre long bunkers

The mushrooms are grown in long tiered beds in the grow-rooms which are housed in a 260 metre long shed.  Each room has stringent hygiene protocols and is individually computer-controlled to optimise the humidity/temperature levels, with no pesticides or fungicides used on the crops.  The resultant happy little white and Swiss Brown mushrooms are greedy for nutrients and will double their size every 20 hours.  Once ready, they will be hand-picked by one of 155 employed pickers, graded by sight and boxed all at once which means that the mushrooms are only ever handled the once – thus reducing the risk of bruising damage to this delicate fungus.  Each room will be picked three times in five weeks, with each crop becoming slightly sparser than the last – - one room will ultimately yield about 9-10 tonnes.  Once the mushroom growing potential is exhausted the rooms are sealed and steamed to 70C to  cook the compost before it is removed and sent off to nurseries for sale as mushroom compost.

Life in the growing room

Once boxed and bar-coded, the mushrooms are chilled down rapidly and dispatched as quickly as possible.  In most cases the mushrooms we find in our local South Australian stores will have been picked and packed in the 24 hours prior to them appearing on the shelves.  Adelaide Mushrooms  exports to many interstate markets too, with delivery timed to within 2 days after picking so there is no chance of compromise in the quality.

Clearly, the stringent adherence to strict quality controls has paid off for the Schirripa’s and Adelaide Mushrooms, who now annually produce 130,000 tonnes of mushrooms and  have been named number one Australian mushroom producer for almost 10 years in a row.  Currently employing approximately 195 staff members on site, Adelaide Mushrooms is not resting on it’s laurels and has plans for expansion.  Exotic mushrooms, like Shitakes and Enoki’s, are currently grown in Tasmania but Doug Schirripa has set aside land for new growing rooms dedicated to their specific growing needs, as well as plans for another 12 growing rooms exclusively for Swiss Brown mushrooms.  It seems this hugely successful South Australian mushroom producer will be showing the rest of the country how it is done for quite a while yet.

Mushrooms are not only very tasty and versatile, but also hugely nutrient-dense.  For delicious recipes and a wealth of information on this sometimes under-estimated food source check out  the Australian Mushroom Growers website.

 

 

 

 

 

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Lizzy (Good Things) April 21, 2012 at 6:22 pm

Great post Amanda. I find mushrooms farms quite awe-inspiring! Those little buttons peaking through and growing so quickly. Reminds me, Peter and I have a little mushroom farm tucked away… Peter has never grown them, I can’t wait to see his face when we get it going! Love working with the Mushroom Growers too, BTW! Well done.

Celeste @ Berrytravels April 21, 2012 at 6:30 pm

This was an incredibly interesting read. What an opportunity! I’d love to visit as well – they wouldn’t happen to be open for public to visit, would they?

I loved learning that mushrooms are only handled once and that would definitely explain the lack of bruising I find on the mushrooms I find in SA. Do they sell their mushrooms through Coles and Woolies as well or do they keep away from the giants?

Mushroom Enthusiast April 21, 2012 at 10:51 pm

Amanda – glad to read that you enjoyed the visit. Everyone who visits says the setup is fantastic and a real credit to the Schirripa’s. Go the Mushrooms.

Hotly Spiced April 22, 2012 at 7:37 am

What a great post. So interesting. Amazing they can double their size in such a short space of time. Congrats to these people for creating such a wonderful business and for employing so many locals xx

Kate April 22, 2012 at 7:59 am

The size of that place is amazing – I could not believe the vastness. Amazing and yummy product too !

Kate April 22, 2012 at 9:54 am

Great article. I love mushrooms and now i know even more about the producers ill eat them with pride. Great to see a family owned south Australian company leading the way. Well done.

Barbara April 22, 2012 at 10:44 am

Excellent post Amanda. I make mushrooms the main part of the meal once a week so I shall check out the recipes.

Growing up on a farm we used to collect mushrooms in the fields.

Mandy - The Complete Cook Book April 22, 2012 at 5:33 pm

Love mushrooms – interesting and brilliant post Amanda.
:-) Mandy

InTolerant Chef April 22, 2012 at 5:44 pm

I love seeing behind-the-scenes, its always so fascinating and shows the passion of the growers!
Lovely mushrooms indeed!

Judy April 22, 2012 at 6:56 pm

Great story Amanda. So much happens before that little mushroom can end up on your plate and to think, as kids, we used to collect mushrooms by the bucketful, some as big as a side plate from the vacant land which is now the Wingfield dump site here in Adelaide.

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella April 22, 2012 at 9:50 pm

Mushroom growing is so interesting. I went to a place that does it here and looking at the different heads popping up against the black peat moss is actually quite beautiful!

Jennifer (Delicieux) April 23, 2012 at 1:30 pm

What a great post Amanda! I can’t believe how big that facility is. It’s just huge!! It must have been wonderful to see all those mushrooms growing. We simply adore mushrooms in the Delicieux house, and always have some on hand.

anh@anhsfoodblog.com April 23, 2012 at 2:27 pm

Wow! Such an interesting post!!

celia April 24, 2012 at 6:08 am

How interesting to see them growing, Amanda! Thank you for such an enlightening post! And congrats to Adelaide Mushrooms, it sounds like they’ve worked hard for and earned their success!

Johanna April 28, 2012 at 10:25 am

Hi Amanda, fantastic pics in this post! My favourite is the one of the mushrooms in the growing room, oh and the very top picture. Thankyou for writing such an interesting post too, very refreshing! Cheers, Johanna.

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