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 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.
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.