As a member of the United States Personal Chef Association I am often lucky enough to learn about wonderful things in the food world. At our conference in July, I discovered RI Mushroom Company and the White Horse Tavern in Newport, RI.
Bob DiPietro is a passionate mushroom farmer, in a rather non conventional farm. My chapter had the chance to visit his farm and we saw and learned a lot about mushrooms.... I wish to share some of these things with you here.
Mushrooms are not always grown in the dark or in manure. Mushrooms here are spawned on a petri dish, then germinated on sterilized wheat berries, then added to a saw dust mixture in plastic bags to get going. Once a solid base is built - this is actually the mushroom, the part we eat is the flower - they are transferred to a different greenhouse (indoor one mind you) to produce the mushrooms we love to eat. Mushrooms thrive in low barometric pressure - ever notice how wild mushrooms tend to explode after a storm? Moisture, airflow and temperature are important. On the bright side - no watering is required! Mushrooms will always grow towards the light as well.
Now blue oyster mushrooms grow in straw, not sawdust. They also don't like competition. When grown with the golden oyster, which releases spores, the blue oyster will shut down. But if the golden oyster is on the down side of air flow, the blue oysters flourish.
Portabella are grown up crimini mushrooms, which are the same as white button mushrooms, but the white buttons are grown in the dark. The portabella is a name mushroom growers in PA made up for a mushroom that was originally discarded. They need a lot of room to grow as opposed to their more compact siblings.
Hen of the woods is just a wild Maitake mushroom, which is a favorite in Japan. The fall is truffle season! Wonderful earthy flavors.......Spanish White truffles are available, but dig deep - they will go for about $3500 a pound.
The best way to store mushrooms is in the fridge in a rolled up paper bag, and most mushrooms will survive for up to a week. You can rinse your mushrooms prior to use, and should cook your mushrooms for maximum nutritional value. Mushrooms contain chitin, the same thing that gives shellfish shells their strength, and must be broken down with heat. Yes you can still have raw mushrooms on your salad, but you are not getting anything out of them nutritionally speaking.
Some pretty cool mushrooms we saw include the chicken of the woods, which actually tastes like chicken and is super firm in texture. The Lion's Mane mushroom can taste like a scallop and has medicinal properties to it - as do many mushrooms. Certain varieties of mushrooms have been shown to help cancer patients, and I believe that is a delicious remedy to try! Baby shiitakes are completely edible as opposed to the larger varieties that the stem needs to be removed.
RI Mushroom Company mushrooms are found at Whole Foods markets or right at the farm. Explore the options, eat more mushrooms, and buy local! But never eat a wild mushroom unless you are a trained professional - many can be very toxic to our systems.