A Food & Travel Blog

Good food & where it comes from – Adelaide Mushrooms

21/04/2012 | By

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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Christmas day food – a Middle Eastern mushroom superfood salad!

22/12/2011 | By

I’m sure that most of my readers will be putting together the final details for their Christmas dinner and, with the main features almost definitely decided upon (you have decided, haven’t you?), it is time to look at the side dishes.  We’ll be having salads in our house as the weather forecast is for a very hot day here in Adelaide.  Of course I have the good old stand-by dishes that I know everyone loves, but each year I try to come up with something a bit special and a little different.  This year mushrooms will be starring on our Christmas table in a salad that offers a passing nod to the Middle Eastern origins of the Christmas story.

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Mushroom Mania at Vino Ristorante

29/07/2011 | By

As July draws to a close so does my quest for marvellous mushroom meals, but I knew I still had time to squeeze in one more fabulous fungal feed before Mushroom Mania month is over for this year.

This week my travels took me to Unley Road and to a restaurant whose existence I was completely unaware of.  Vino Ristorante came as something of a surprise to me, as I had lived in that area for quite a few years before moving up the hill and thought I was pretty familiar with all of the local Unley food palaces.  Serving seasonal, traditional Italian food with a focus on Sicilian cuisine,Vino Ristorante has been sitting right under my nose since 2001, but has clearly not escaped everyone’s attention, gaining a reputation for old fashioned Italian home-cooking using fresh, local ingredients and a guernsey as a finalist in the 2011 South Australian Restaurant and Catering Awards for Excellence.

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Mushroom Mania – Dhaba at the Spice Kitchen

19/07/2011 | By

July marches on, and so does Mushroom Mania – with frightening speed, and quite suddenly I find myself in week three of my mushroom munching month.  Mushrooms have been a part of the human diet since man (although it was probably, actually women) began foraging in the forests and the early days of mushroom eating no doubt had a frisson of danger to them as identification of toxic species would have been something of a “hit or miss” affair.  Fortunately for us, we are at the other end of edible mushroom history and can safely enjoy the taste and health benefits of of this remarkable funghi with many species now being extensively farmed, making them accessible to us for most of the year.  Mushrooms are used in many different international culinary traditions and this week I took the opportunity to enjoy an Indian take on our funghal favourites at Dhaba at the Spice Kitchen, in Leabrook.

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Mushroom Mania – The Highway

13/07/2011 | By

 

It is now week two of both July and Mushroom Mania and your intrepid correspondent is very happy to be pursuing another magnificent mushroom meal.  Of course, I don’t just do this because mushrooms taste divine and lend themselves so well to a wide variety of culinary uses, but also because they are so very good for me too.  Mushrooms are a great source of fibre, the minerals selenium and copper, provide more than a quarter of the vitamins riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid and biotin and are one of the highest known antioxidant foods in the world.  Further, they are virtually fat-free, low in sodium and have now been found to play an active role in lowering cholesterol – why on earth wouldn’t you eat them!

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Mushroom mania at the Hahndorf Inn

07/07/2011 | By

Winter in the Adelaide Hills is very lovely – loads of misty, moisty mornings, stark, bare trees and vines and heavy,  dramatic skies – but it can get a little cold and damp and some days one just needs to be able to sit down and heat oneself up from the inside with a big feed of comfort food.  Mushrooms fall into that category for me and, thanks to the Mushroom Growers Association July has been decreed Mushroom Mania month.  Seeking a quick local meal with my youngest the other day, I was very pleased to find that the Hahndorf Inn, in the historic township of Hahndorf, was  an enthusiastic participant in the mushie madness and had a special mushroom menu for the event.

Hahndorf is a small tourist town in the Adelaide hills and is noted as Australia’s oldest surviving German settlement, being settled by German immigrants in the early-mid 1800’s.  Many of the original settlers buildings survive in the picturesque main street and the town is currently gaining a reputation as a foodie destination thanks to the variety and quality of specialist foods available.  The Hahndorf Inn dates back to 1853 and the dining room is part of the original hotel building.

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