Any Adelaide foodie worth their fleur-de-sel spends time in the Adelaide Central Market. Situated in the centre of the city, it is a gourmet’s gold-mine, selling the very best of local and imported produce, multicultural ingredients and gourmet specialities all on a site that has operated as a market for well over 100 years. Many of the stalls have been owned by the same families for years, with the later generations branching out into stalls of their own.
Such is the case for “The Mushroom Man“, Marco Marinelli whose family have owned and operated Atlas Continental Foods in the Central Market for well over 30 years. Given his Italian background with it’s “food is life” ethos and the several generations of food merchants in his blood, Marco was always one apple that wasn’t going to fall too far from the family tree – either physically (his stall is opposite that of his family) or philosophically – so when the existing mushroom stall became available nine years ago he grabbed it.
Marco tells me he really only expected to stay in the mushroom business for a few years and then, as had been his habit, move on to the next big thing but his passion for good food got the better of him. Growing up with an appreciation for the gourmet delicacies that were sold in the family business meant that Marco was very aware of the limited variety of mushrooms – either white or Swiss Brown – that were available here in South Australia and set about rectifying that situation. In the process of exploring and sourcing the very best supplies of local farmed, seasonal wild and imported mushrooms, he has become something of an authority on gourmet mushrooms and truffles and now supplies many of Adelaide’s best chefs and restaurants.
Mushroom farming is expensive to set up – establishing a small farm will cost close to $5 million and the most recent large farm established here cost closer to $50 million – so Marco prefers to leave growing them to the experts who supply him. His wild mushrooms are supplied by various mushroom gatherers, both here and interstate, who remain very tight-lipped about their favourite picking spots.His imported gourmet species are of the highest quality available internationally.
The world of gourmet mushrooms and truffles seems to be full of intrigue and mystery and unsubstantiated stories abound. Culinarily valued species such as Chanterelles and Porcini are not easily cultivated here and the importation of their spores is strictly policed by Australian quarantine laws, yet rumours of local cultivation regularly pop up. There are said to be Chanterelles growing in a secret location in Tasmania, although Marco has not seen any of them, and there was talk of a man who knew where Porcini were growing locally. Unfortunately, that man passed away suddenly, taking his secret with him to the grave.
Referred to as “the black diamond” by Brillat-Savarin, the highly prized black Perigord truffle comes with it’s own stories of mystery and, in France, tales of gunfights, truffle-trained dog thefts and fraud are not unheard of. There are various types of truffle with varying grades of quality and, because of the large amounts of money at stake, some unscrupulous dealers have not been above trying to make the most of the cheaper, lesser quality truffles available. Truffle aroma can be quite successfully artificially enhanced, but the flavour cannot. Some years ago, the French reputation for high quality truffles was severely compromised when “aromatically enhanced” cheap truffles were found being marketed as the higher quality product. These days the French are much more vigilant and employ inspectors using modern techniques, including DNA testing, to maintain their quality control.
Truffles are difficult and expensive to cultivate, need specific climate conditions and require a very long “lead-time” with no guarantee of a high quality crop when they eventually fruit, but a few brave souls in Australia are attempting to grow them. There has been success with the cultivation of good quality truffles in Tasmania and attempts in Victoria and also in Western Australia. Again, Marco hears of stories of South Australian truffles, but he is yet to sight them.
Marco is deeply interested in the specialisation of gourmet lines and evolving their growth by educating his customers in their use. With this in mind and because truffles and gourmet mushrooms are only available seasonally, he has developed and produced a range of salts and seasonings that can be enjoyed all year round. Developed, manufactured and packaged locally, his lines include porcini salt, truffle salt, wild mushroom and black garlic salt, truffle oil and a truffle pasta sauce which I am told is simply divine. He has also developed a very informative website which lists the type of mushrooms he has available, their seasonal availability and an impressive collection of recipes if one should be short on ideas of how to use them.
I think Marco is a yet another great example of the accomplishment, knowledge and spirit that informs our local food scene, don’t you?