Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Magical Mushroom Tour

There's not much that would get me up on a Sunday morning at the crack'o'dawn, drive for an hour and arrive to see the the frost still glittering coldly on the grass, unless of course, it was an opportunity to go on a guided tour of a mushroom tunnel.

The mushroom tour was organised as part of the Cool Flavours Festival, an annual foodie festival in the Southern Highlands. Directions were a little imprecise, but we managed to find the swimming pool car park that was the meeting point. We had to travel by mini-bus to the actual tunnel, which was only about 500 meters away but, because it was alongside the railway track, we weren't allowed to walk.

Once the mini-bus had done three trips to drop everyone off, (to pass the time, Mum and I tried to name as many mushroom varieties as we knew) Noel Arrold introduced himself and his business - Li-Sun Exotic Mushrooms. Noel started his working life as a microbiologist before taking over a disused railway tunnel between Bowral and Mittagong to start cultivating exotic mushrooms. Starting with Swiss Browns over 20 years ago, then moving to exotic Asian mushrooms like shiitake, oyster, shimejeii and wood ear, he now supplies restaurants  (including Tetsuya's) and wholesalers with around 1,500 kilos a week of up to eight different varieties. Some of these varieties are grown at the laboratory which is in a different location to the railway tunnel.

Growing mushrooms underground is not new. The first mushrooms grown in tunnels in Australia were under Circular Quay in the 1930s. Mushrooms have also been grown in the catacombs under Paris and in 12 square kilometres of former limestone mine in Pittsburgh, USA. This tunnel was built in 1886 and has been unused by the railway since 1919. After being used as a munitions store in World War 2, it has been revitalised as a mushroom farm.

Although the tunnel is a stable 16 degrees, it felt warm and humid after the chilly start to the day. It was very clean with an earthy smell. Row upon row of bottles, some with little mushrooms peering out, were at the beginning of the 650 metre tunnel.
Shimejii mushrooms

Two different types of enoki mushrooms
Nameko mushrooms

Some of the mushrooms are grown in these bottles, some on logs made of sawdust, others in heavy plastic bags - all are inoculated with the specific mushroom spore that have been gathered in the laboratory.

Racks of logs inoculated with shiitake mushrooms
Like something from Avatar....

Hot pink oyster mushrooms - a variety from South America

Most of the mushrooms grown here are originally from Asia, where they grow naturally. Mushrooms play an important part in the carbon cycle by breaking down the trees in the forests there. Mushrooms were first cultivated 930 years ago outside Shanghai. It is now an industry employing ten million people.

Oyster mushrooms

Mushrooms that need specific tree types to grow under, like porcini, chantarelle and morel cannot be grown here and are imported as dried mushrooms.

Everyone on the tour received a punnet of mushrooms, ours had King Browns, enoki, shimejii and woodear mushrooms. Stay tuned on how I cooked them!

We finished our morning in the Southern Highlands with a visit to Tennessee Orchards at Yerrinbool, stopping to buy a box of deliciously tangy Lady Williams and a bottle of clear, flavourful apple juice.

What's the most exotic mushroom that you've used in cooking?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

What's On

Don't you hate finding out about things after the fact?
Why does the first Saturday of every month go past and I forget to grow to the Grower's Market at Pyrmont? Same with the first Sunday of the month and the Artisan Markets at Eveleigh.

And whilst I love reading about foodie events and activities, I'd love it even more if I had the opportunity to consider attending the event in the first place!

So, in the interests of keeping you informed of my interests, here's the on-going and upcoming list of events - mainly food inspired, but also some other items that tickle my fancy.

And hopefully, through the miracle that is the interwebs, I'll be able to post an actual calendar with recurring and upcoming events.

So - this coming long weekend, the Highlands Foodie Group presents the first (of I hope annually) Cool Flavours Festival over the June Long Weekend.

With a variety of activities at local farms, restaurants, cafes, vineyards and orchards, there's plenty to choose from. Check out the program and map here for all the details of the many events.
I was keen to do the cheese-making tour at Small Cow Farm in Robertson (various times on Saturday and Sunday, $10 per person - how cheap is that!) but couldn't fit in into my schedule, so have decided to go on the Mushroom Tour at Li Sun Exotic Mushroom Farm on Sunday. (Various times on Saturday & Sunday, $25 per person). The mushrooms are grown in a disused railway tunnel.
Hopefully, after our tour we'll pop into Joadja Winery for a bit of lunch and some jazz. Rick and I visited this winery a couple of years ago and was impressed with the friendly owner and tasty wines. I remember seeing a vat of balsamic vinegar that wouldn't be ready for awhile so I'm keen to see if it has matured enough yet!

And then next week, I'm off to see Gary Mehigan of Masterchef judgeship fame at a "Modern Pie" cooking demonstration organised by the Harvey Norman Gourmet Institute and promoted through Gourmet Traveller magazine. It sounds like it could be a lot of fun, and I would rather see Gary than little George bouncing up and down!

There's a great selection of other top chefs every month until the end of the year. The Adriano Zumbo one looks particularly interesting - an early Christmas present perhaps?

Let me know of anything interesting that you have heard about. And call back here often, I hope to keep adding to the regular and semi-regular events!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Oh for fork's sake

Our latest household dilemma finally reached crisis point this week. Allow me to explain:

We had suspicions earlier in the week, but had managed to soldier on. Last night however the previously mentioned crisis point was reached when, even with a just cleaned load of cutlery from the dishwasher, the number of forks remained at one per diner – seven.

Given that we have a household of two adults plus assorted teenagers and twenty-somethings, numbers for dinner can be a little fluid. People are encouraged to invite others for dinner (on their cooking night) but having seven forks was cutting it a bit fine, I suggested that next time anyone invites someone for dinner they tell them to BYO fork.

I was worried that we were going to get down to so few forks that we would no longer be able to encourage each other to ”use the fork Luke – use the fork” (in spite of the fact that no-one in our house is named Luke this joke never wears thin).

First of all – what has happened to the forks? We still had the regulation amount (ie more than enough) knives and spoons. Could it have been the workers or the students of the house – taking a spoon to eat lunchtime leftover pasta or was it late-night snacking culprits with the cutlery hiding under their beds – I didn’t want to go there.
An antique fork, probably found under a teenager's bed five hundred years ago

Laying blame was not going to solve the problem in the short-term, how to solve the current cutlery crisis?

I considered switching our regular diet to spoonable meals only, but the prospect of only soups, stews and risotto, whilst doable in the short term, could start to wear a bit thin by summer.

Not wanting to spend a small fortune on cutlery, which I keep promising myself I will do one day, I took myself off to the local $2 shop – a misnomer if I’ve ever heard one considering it sells some furniture upwards of the two hundred dollar mark, confident of making a purchase of an extra few forks for the household.

The shop had cane baskets full of cutlery – knives, spoons, teaspoons – no forks. Moving down the aisle to the pre-packaged cutlery section there were packets of teaspoons, spoons, knives, ridiculous looking seafood forks, a set of six cocktail forks – but no regular dining forks.

Unfortunately these handy, yet lethal finger forks are no longer in stock...

I approached the girl packing the shelves with the eternal question – “were there any out the back?” She rolled her eyes at me (at me! I've been eye rolling since before you were a speck in your own eye rolling father's eye girly!) and said she would check. She returned with a variety of plastic forks. I considered them momentarily, especially the sturdy looking metal coloured ones, but decided against them in case they melted in the dishwasher.

So, obviously this is not a phenomenon only occurring in our home but in the wider area – where have all the forks gone? I will of course venture further to search over the next few days, but in the meantime I can only conclude that they have gone off to join their spiritual cousins – the single socks.