Mushrooms are one of those vegetables that are always available, but you rarely get to see them growing. It’s not like you’re ever going to pass by rolling mushroom fields or ranches on your way to the Catskills.
I recently had the opportunity to see for myself where the magic happens. Alongside our Produce team, I visited two of the biggest mushroom farms in the Tri-State area: Phillips Mushroom Farms and Modern Farms Mushrooms.
I left with a head full of fun facts, a bag full of delicious mushroom treats and a real understanding of how mushrooms go from the earth to my kitchen.
Phillips Mushrooms Farms
We spent the morning touring the impressive growing and facility rooms at Phillips Mushroom Farms with Steve Phillips.
William Phillips, Steve’s grandfather, first started growing white button mushrooms in 1927 and quickly established his farm as an innovator in the industry.
The Phillips family was a leader in improving temperature control techniques and was the first US grower to successfully raise Shiitake mushrooms indoors.
The family was so successful with Shiitake and Portobello mushrooms, they swiftly converted the bulk of their production over to growing specialty and exotic mushrooms in the 1980s.
The Phillips farm has room upon room with carefully controlled levels of heat, humidity and light and specific substrates (the natural surface mushrooms grow on) for each type of mushroom.
Steve took us through rooms filled with Oyster, Maitake, Enoki, Royal Trumpet, Pom Pom and, of course, Shiitake and Portobello mushrooms. I’ve never seen such beautiful mushrooms before — they had a delicate scent and intricate, interesting textures.
Modern Farms Mushrooms
We then drove just down the road (literally) to another family-run farm, Modern Mushroom Farms.
Now run by the third-generation of the Ciarrocchi family, Modern has been in the business of growing white button mushrooms for over 85 years.
Mark Leone, Vice President of East-Central Sales, fed us a tasty lunch and then took us on a tour of the entire operation — 38 growing rooms that produce over 500,000 pounds of mushrooms a week!
Modern may not have diversified their production as much as Phillips, but they know how to make a whole LOT of white button mushrooms — and they are committed to doing so with an eye on environmental stewardship and sustainable agriculture.
Working with Protected Harvest (a non-profit, independent certification organization), Modern Farms Mushrooms reduced their consumption of natural gas and fresh water and implemented a recycling program for their growth materials.
It might seem a little strange that the simple white button mushroom could inspire such passion and excitement, but it’s true. These guys are mad about mushrooms — they are constantly striving to improve their growing processes and to consistently produce gorgeous products.
What struck me the most about our day in mushroom country was the general respect between the two farms. I expected a little more one-upmanship, but there was nothing but good vibes to be found… must be all those ‘shrooms.
Here are some expert tips I gathered on storing and cooking mushrooms:
- Store mushrooms in your fridge in a paper bag that’s folded over and sealed (I wrap a loose rubber band around a folded over bag). Mushrooms can hang out in your fridge for up to two weeks if handled correctly.
- Remove the black gills underneath a Portobello cap before adding it to sauces or pastas — they’ll turn everything black. You can use the side of spoon to gently scrape them off.
- When you wash a Portobello, don’t get the gills wet, just wash off the top of each cap.
- If you’re sautéing mushrooms and you want them to remain robust, don’t salt them until the very end of cooking. Salt breaks down mushrooms quickly, leeching out their water and reducing their size and texture.
I also chatted with our nutritionist, Maggie Moon, MS, RD, and she shared some great health facts about mushrooms:
- Mushrooms are the only fresh fruit or vegetable that contains vitamin D.
- They fill you up with hardly any calories, fat or sodium, making them a nutrient powerhouse.
- Mushrooms are low in sodium, plus their umami (a “meaty” flavor) counterbalances saltiness and allows up to a 50 percent salt reduction in recipes without compromising the flavor.
- Mushrooms are low in calories, fat free, and can be an effective substitute for meats, thanks to their hearty and satisfying nature.
- Mushrooms provide B vitamins, including riboflavin, niacin, and pantothenic acid, which help to provide energy by breaking down proteins, fats and carbohydrates.
- White button mushrooms (stir-fried with water) have more potassium per 100g serving than a banana; potassium helps control blood pressure.
You’ll see even more mushroom photos from our trip at the FreshDirect Facebook page.