Valley Bounty: Mushrooms

High season for foraging mushrooms is still months away but luckily for all of us, mushroom farmers across the Valley cultivate the tasty fungus indoors year-round. I recently spoke with Willie Crosby, owner of Fungi Ally in Hadley. Willie explained that his growing rooms tend to be cooler in the winter and while mushrooms grow more slowly in the brisk conditions, the end result is a hearty, meaty, and very delicious mushroom.

King Oyster mushrooms grow best in cool environments and Willie loves to cultivate them this time of year. The Fungi Ally team begins the process by propagating King Oyster mycelium, the thread-like vegetative growth of the fungus, in a petri dish. They then place the mycelium into a bag of oats, also known as ‘grain spawn’, where it will continue to grow. Once the fungus is strong enough, Willie and the team use the grain spawn to inoculate a large bag filled with a mixture of sawdust and soybean hulls. Over the following three weeks, the spawn expands throughout substrate until it’s ready to begin fruiting.

To induce fruiting, Willie’s team cuts holes in the growing bags to flood the mycelium with oxygen, then they move the fungus into a special fruiting room, which is maintained at a humidity above 85%. Over the next two weeks, the fruit of the fungus—what we call mushrooms—begin to emerge. King Oyster mushrooms grow to an impressive 1.5’’ thick and up to 6’’ tall.

Willie explained that unlike most mushrooms, the most delicious part of a King Oyster is its stem. Willie loves to slice his King Oyster stems into thick medallions then toss them into a frying pan with butter, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Once they’re cooked through, he places each medallion on a cracker and tops it with goat cheese. Try it for yourself—there’s nothing better than a tasty fungal afternoon snack!

Valley Bounty is written by Noah Baustin of CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture)