A Food & Travel Blog

Mushrooms, truffles and their world of intrigue

24/03/2011 | By

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.

The first of the new-season’s fresh, wild Pine Mushrooms from a secret location in the South East of South Australia

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?

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  1. Nesta

    There is NOTHING like truffled mash. I love this stall because they really help you get the best from their produce – they can’t afford you to have a bad experience or you won’t come back.
    each year i buy one truffle and make it work they way they taught me:
    1) keep it in arborio rice so it doesn’t go mouldy (and then much later you get to make risotto with that rice)
    2) every now and then stash it with some eggs and then make a truffle scented omelette
    3) use a little with cream to sauce some silky hand made pasta
    4) use some in creamy mash with a fab roast or slow-cooked thing
    5) use the rest in your favourite truffle extravagance.
    And so you get about 5-6 great experience from the one $30 truffle!

    How good is that? thanks Marco and your fabulous staff.

  2. Amanda

    Kel – Thanks, sounds great!
    Nesta – You certainly have the whole truffle thing well and truly sorted. You make them sound positively economical!


    This was a very interesting and lively post about a very dedicated individual who’s passion screams from your post Amanda.

    I have a true love with mushrooms and my Hubby actually teases me about maybe one day retiring on a Truffle mine farm…and bring our dog along to dig for this Foodie gold ;o) This I’d love to experience this at least once…just for the heck of it of course 😉

    Ciao for now,

  4. funfoodfocus

    Hi Amanda – great story!

    Reminds me of my best truffle experience. We were on a trip to Europe and stayed in Italy for a few weeks. A very special birthday was coming up and my husband booked us into a fabulous restaurant in Orvieto for lunch. This restaurant specialised in truffle dishes – so I had the best risotto I can remember. The waiter hearing that it was a special birthday, presented the dish and then stood by with a white truffle and his truffle shaver and kept shaving until I had to stay ‘that’s enough’. You can imagine the delicious result. Helen

  5. Anna Johnston

    I had no idea mushroom farming was so expensive to get into… you always bring cool information to your posts Amanda., one comes away a little more informed about your world, thanks Lovely 🙂 Marco sounds like a a very cool Mushroom Man indeed doesn’t he. 🙂

  6. Kate

    Interestingly enough , another blogger from USA posted a truffle ice cream recipe this week on her blog !! Interesting idea but not my cup of tea !

  7. Kitchen Butterfly

    Its great to show support for those who help bring quality to our plates. And I too, like Anna Johnston are surprised at the cost of mushroom farming…….

  8. celia

    I love foodie stories about the next generation taking over and growing the business – it’s like they’re continuing a precious heritage!

  9. cityhippyfarmgirl

    Wow, that IS expensive to start up a mushroom farm. I had no idea…
    Truffles, I’m still yet to taste one. I don’t want it to be any old truffle, I’m saving myself for the right one to come along….. (hehehe, couldn’t resist, as I truly am!)

  10. Sarah @ For the Love of Food

    Thanks once again for the great background on a much visited and much enjoyed stall in the market! You add a richness to my shopping experience! I’ve got a jar of the truffle salt that smells incredible and gets sprinkled on my mushrooms with scrambled eggs for special Sunday breakfasts.

  11. Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella

    I’m sad that I missed meeting him at the Central Markets but I went on the wrong day when no doubt he wasn’t open.

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