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How Mushrooms are Grown

Turkey-Stuffed Portabella Mushrooms -- TheMessyBaker.com

These are Turkey-Stuffed Portabella Mushrooms. I developed this recipe for a joint e-book venture created by Turkey Farmers of Canada and Mushrooms Canada. I’ll get to the recipe soon, but first let me show you around a mushroom farm. It’s not the dark, dank Man Cave I imagined. Au contraire. The modern mushroom farm is bright and odor-free. The only thing it has in common with the Man Cave is lots of cool gadgets.

To see mushrooms growing first hand, I toured Whitecrest Mushrooms in Putnam, Ontario. It’s a state-of-the-art facility full of sparkling aluminum racking, a spiral chiller that looks like something out of Star Trek and mechanized picking carts that would have kids fighting over who got to work the controls.

The Mushroom Growing Cycle

Mushrooms farmers work in 6-week cycles. Mushrooms grow for three weeks, they are harvested for three weeks, and then the growing room is steamed for 3 days to sterilize the racks. Yes, technically this is a 6-week, 3-day cycle, but that’s just cumbersome.

The mushroom racks pictured below have just been steamed. There are six rooms like this at Whitecrest. As you can see, the shelves are bare. The soil from the previous mushrooms crop has been sent to be recycled into a peat moss replacement known as “spent mushroom substrate” – another cumbersome phrase.

Empty mushroom racks - How Mushrooms are grown - TheMessyBaker.com

Photo courtesy of Mushrooms Canada

Growing Mushrooms

The process is organic, although you won’t see this on the labels. The mushrooms grow without fertilizers or pesticides in a mixture of peat moss, wheat straw and organic soymeal. The soil smells clean and fresh, not musty as I’d imagined. And all that light bouncing off that shiny aluminum doesn’t seem to bother them. “Light or dark — it doesn’t matter,” says Murray Good, owner of Whitecrest Mushrooms. And he should know. He’s been growing mushrooms for more than a decade.

Mushrooms grow at an astonishing rate of 4% an hour, doubling their size in a day. Within a week, pin mushrooms (the incubation stage) grow into “balloon knots” (on left), then cremini mushrooms (on right) and finally  …

Mushrooms growing - TheMessyBaker.com

…full-grown portabellas.

Large portabella mushroom cap - TheMessyBaker.com

Picking Mushrooms

To ensure a continuous yield, harvesters take advantage of the quick growth cycle and stagger the picking, selecting the large mushrooms by hand so the small ones can grow. This requires a keen human eye and nimble fingers, although pickers make full use of high-tech carts which take them up all seven levels.

Mushroom picking at Whitecrest Mushrooms - TheMessyBaker

Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays are pick days at Whitecrest Mushrooms.  The average worker picks 800 pounds a day — that’s 60 pounds of cremini  or 100 pounds of portabellas an hour.  “Workers pick from 7 AM to midnight,” Good says. “Or 5 or 6 PM. The mushrooms tell us when they’re done.” While it sounds like a 3-day work week, the farm employs 38 people year-round, closing only on Christmas and New Years.

In the 6-week cycle, each rack produces 38,000 pounds of mushrooms. With six rooms cycling mushrooms almost non-stop, 4 million pounds of mushrooms leave this facility each year. Even I can’t eat that many.

Processing Mushrooms

Once picked, the mushrooms travel along a conveyor where they pass under a UV light before being heading to the space station spiral chiller. Mushroom are the only vegetable with naturally occurring vitamin D, and by merely passing under the UV light their Vitamin D content leaps from 3% of your daily requirement to 100% (400 iU / 100g).

Mushroom on a conveyor about to go under UV light -- TheMessyBaker.com

Mushrooms on a conveyor heading to the UV light - TheMessyBaker.com

Once vitaminized (if that’s a word), the mushrooms are cooled to 1°C (34°F) in this spiral chiller. The cooling takes 50 minutes and helps preserve the mushrooms so they arrive in the stores at the peak of freshness.

Ultra-groovy cooling stack for mushrooms - TheMessyBaker.com

Photo courtesy of Mushrooms Canada

After they’re cooled, the mushrooms are either sliced or packaged whole.

Mushrooms being sorted and ready to be packed - TheMessyBaker.com

Some go out in bulk, others are wrapped and labelled.

Packaged mushrooms - TheMessyBaker.com

Photo courtesy of Mushrooms Canada

Bonus Points

A large portabella mushroom has as much potassium as a banana, which is welcomed news if you share my distaste for bananas. Mushrooms in any form have no fat, no salt, but plenty of umami (a meaty deliciousness known as the fifth taste). Anything with umami enhances the flavour of food it’s served with. No wonder mushrooms pair so well with other umami-rich foods like Parmesan and tomatoes.

And that’s what I learned on the mushroom tour.

The Get Your Grill On with Turkey & Mushroom e-Books

So, where’s the recipe? Online.

Ten bloggers created two recipes each. All 20 recipes had to use mushrooms and turkey. These recipes, along with photos, have been compiled into a two-part free e-book, Get Your Grill On with Turkey and Mushrooms, and are available through Facebook. Ten recipes are downloadable via the Taste Turkey Facebook Page, ten are available through Mushrooms Canada Facebook Page. Which one am I in? Both. All bloggers have one recipe in each e-book. Which one contains the Turkey-Stuffed Portabella Mushrooms? I’m not going to tell you. Download them both to find out.

Oh yes, and if you think I tipped the scales by focusing mushrooms, don’t think it’s a hint. I have another post lined up and next time, I’ll be talking turkey.

Disclosure: While I was compensated for developing the recipes for the e-book, I was not paid for this blog post about mushroom farming. I attended the farm tour on my own time and was under no obligation to write about it. I think it’s important to know where our food comes from and thought it would be interesting to see how mushrooms grow. Want to see a turkey farm? Speak up. Turkeys scare me, but I’m willing to go if there’s enough interest.
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10 Responses to How Mushrooms are Grown

  1. allyson June 20, 2013 at 4:12 pm #

    Charmian: That was very interesting; thanks for the insight into how mushrooms are grown, picked and prepared for sale. What a treat your readers receive on a regular basis, and what a treat they have in store when they see your turkey and mushroom recipes!
    allyson

    • Charmian Christie June 20, 2013 at 4:52 pm #

      Thanks. I was quite impressed with the tour and learned a lot. I’m thrilled that Ontario mushroooms are so eco-friendly as well as good for me. Oh yes, and don’t forget delicious.

  2. AlwaysARedhead June 20, 2013 at 7:29 pm #

    I love mushrooms and have always thought the process was very cool. I would really like to try growing some myself.
    AlwaysARedhead recently posted…They called while I was away, another mammogram was necessaryMy Profile

    • Charmian Christie June 21, 2013 at 4:50 pm #

      Did you know they make grow-your-own mushroom kits? I got one from the Food Bloggers of Canada conference and it was a blast! You might want to get one since there’s no special equipment required and the mushrooms are fascinating to watch grow. And your crop is edible!

  3. Robin June 21, 2013 at 2:21 pm #

    I can tell you that turkey farms are SMELLY SMELLY places. I enjoy mushrooms and found this post fascinating. Laura not so much, so I plan to indulge when she leaves for school.
    I can eat them at your place too!
    Love,
    The mushroom loving sister

    • Charmian Christie June 21, 2013 at 4:38 pm #

      I’ve never been to a turkey farm but based on a trip to a pig farm a couple of years ago, imagine modern facilities are less smelly than turkey farms of old. At least, I hope so. I was also at a goat farm last month and there was almost no smell, so I’m now curious to know if modern turkey farms have the odor issue under control. I’ll ask the good people at Turkey Farmers of Canada.

      Andrew’s not a big mushroom fan either but that doesn’t stop me from indulging. I adore mushrooms and eagerly eat his share. Or buy them for myself.

  4. Mushrooms Canada June 24, 2013 at 9:39 pm #

    Charmian, this post is just incredible. Thanks for sharing your experiences at Murray’s farm and for being such a big part to this grilling e-cookbook. You really give great insight into the world of mushroom farming and I hope your readers enjoy the read as much as I did.

    -Shannon
    Mushrooms Canada recently posted…Grow Me, Blog Me | Giveaway #3My Profile

    • Charmian Christie June 25, 2013 at 1:11 am #

      Thanks for helping arrange the tour. I love seeing where my food comes from.

      I gotta tell you, in this heat, I could really use some quality time a spiral chiller right now.

  5. ортомол October 17, 2013 at 1:18 pm #

    витамины для суставов

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