Magic Mushrooms

100_3045Nope, not those kind!  But, yes, I think they’re magic!  I had the chance to tour the California Mushroom Farm in Ventura CA a few weeks ago (before my long and arduous move!) with a Santa Barbara Farm and Food Adventure group.  I had discovered their small sales operation soon after moving to the Ventura area and relished the button, cremini, oyster and shiitake mushrooms I purchased there.

We got the full tour from Jack Reitnauer, manager of the mushroom farm.  Jack hails from Amish country in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, known as the Mushroom Capital of the World because mushroom farming in the region produces over a million pounds of mushrooms a week.  Jack’s been working in the mushroom business since he was 12.  The Ventura farm produces 500,000 pounds of mushrooms weekly, and Jack said they deliver throughout southern California and Arizona.100_3029  The CA Mushroom Farm is the largest private employer in the City of Ventura with over 480 full-time employees.  They are also the third largest mushroom farm in the US.

These buildings have been here a while, since 1959.  Some of the wood of the frames in the growing chambers is original wood.  The site sits on 30 acres with 88 growing rooms with 8800 sq. ft. of growing area each.  They are housed in large masonry buildings with two doors, one downstairs and one upstairs, on each end of the mushroom growing rooms.

100_3034Each building has a different part of the process taking place.  The first building we entered was so hot is was suffocating, and steamed up my camera lens.  This is the beginning of the process for preparing the growing medium with water and heat to accept the mushroom spawn.  The temperatures are kept at approximately 175 degrees for 13 days.

The next 12 days has the growing room being filled with the substrate 100_3036which will nourish the mushroom spawn, conditioned by alternating fresh air and steam, then cooling for 2 days.  Then the spawn (mycelium/roots) along with nutrients are planted and allowed 12-14 days to grow.

The growing room is then “cased” where a mixture of peat moss, sugar beet lime and water is applied on top at 100_3037almost 2 inches thickness which raises the pH level turning the medium from acidic to alkaline.  This 7 day process encourages the mycelium/spawn to grow.  Kinda looked like mud to me.

Suddenly at the next step the rooms were much cooler.  This is when fresh air is introduced to stop the mycelium/spawn from growing.  This begins the formation of fruiting “bodies” (mushrooms).  100_3038This is called pinning or fructification.  Jack told us that there are screens on all the doorways to let the fresh ocean breezes in, and keep pests out (the facility is less than 2 miles from the beach).  Twelve days later the mushrooms are ready for 100_3042harvesting, picking for 3 days every 5 days for about 22 days.  Some are left to become portobellos, those large 3+ inch beauties that are often stuffed with yummy toppings or grilled and used as a vegetarian option for burgers.  Read for some history and some great looking recipes.

After harvesting, the growing room is steamed off for 24 hours at 160 degrees in order to sterilize the room.  It is cooled, the growing medium removed, and the process starts over.  The growing medium is sold locally as compost.

Every once in a while I come across someone who just doesn’t like mushrooms.  Sorry, folks, I don’t get it!  I love them raw, sauteed, grilled, pureed, fried, . . . well, you get the idea.  And now that I’m no longer in Ventura, I’m relying on the grocer to quench my mushroom cravings . . . until I find another local source.100_3044

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One thought on “Magic Mushrooms

  1. Pingback: Grilled Mushrooms Recipe | FlexibleVegan

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