From NYTimes (excerpted) April 14, 2010
Small-scale mushrooming is becoming a movement in North America these days. The New York Times recently ran a big story documenting the rapid rise in home cultivation of edible mushrooms. Although most people be surprised to hear that the home cultivation business has surged (I resisted the urge to say “mushroomed”), many readers of FUNGI have likely tried their hands at it already. (And if not, what are you waiting for? Spawn companies sell ready-to-go kits for the beginner, and I can assure that it’s easy and pretty much foolproof!)
According to Paul Stamets, a prominent mycologist and founder of Fungi Perfecti, mushroom kit sales have been increasing at 25% per year, for the last three years and plug spawn sales are easily double that over a three- or four-year period.
Cooking shows and food magazines now call for something more than the standard plastic-wrapped button mushroom, according to Mary Ellen Kozak, an owner of the mushroom-supply company Field and Forest Products in Peshtigo, Wisconsin. A recent Martha Stewart Living recipe recommended beech mushrooms, something pretty much unheard of five years ago. Martha Stewart’s show recently had Gary Lincoff on to talk about picking wild mushrooms, as well.
Ah, gourmet mushrooms… Feeding those foodie appetites — and the farmers’ markets that sell to them — has created new demand for mushroom spawn and gear. Joe Krawczyk, Ms. Kozak’s husband and business partner at Field and Forest, told The New York Times that there has been steady growth of 5% a year for the last 10 years and a 20% jump in 2009.
Shiitake mushrooms have been grown successfully in Japan for at least a millennium. But if old photos are to be believed, the “soak and strike” method required a certain comfort level with chilly water, colossal hammers and crippling labor. The tamer and more reliable backyard business began in the United States around the same time as Fungi Perfecti. That is, 1980, with the concept of nurturing all kinds of spawn in grain and then shipping them by mail. Mushrooms like the shiitake, wine cap, oyster and lion’s mane have taken to home domestication. All are widely available in spawn form and are reasonably easy to grow. But other gourmet varieties, like chanterelles and truffles (both mycorrhizal), continue to defy most human meddling.
The mushroom’s temperament in a word: capricious. Most backyard growers tend to inoculate — that is, seed — wood chips, logs or straw. But The New York Times spoke with several home cultivators that use other materials to fruit mushrooms. Cory Finneron of Asheville, N.C., has developed mycelium on recycled coffee grounds and pine kitty litter. Ron Spinosa, a NAMA member in St. Paul, Minn., has raised oyster mushrooms on rolls of toilet paper. (He recommends that the paper be unbleached.)
The most convenient way of raising mushrooms, though, is with kits that come with the spawn already inoculated into toaster-size blocks of sawdust, wood chips and grains. Cut open the top of the breathable plastic bag, spray it periodically with a mister and wait for the fruit to arrive. Some kits consist of a preinoculated plastic bag; just pull the stopper from the top and you’re on your way. Fungi Perfecti sold more than 20,000 mushroom kits last year and expects to sell even more this year. Maybe this will be YOUR year to give it a try.