Every now and then in life you discover something that completely changes your preconceived notions. I find these experiences amazing and enlightening and am always on the lookout for new opportunities to learn.
Lately I've been on a mission to discover the sources and producers of many of our foods, from butter, to organic veggies, to ice cream cookies. At the recent Eat, Drink, Blog conference in Perth I was lucky enough to join a visit to the Crown Mushroom Farm and see the full life cycle of mushroom production.
Sometimes it's far too easy to throw a bunch of ingredients in the basket at the local supermarket without ever realizing the passion and hard work that lies behind so many fantastic products. Mushrooms definitely have been in that category for me but this experience really changed that for me.
Things started off with a short, slightly hungover, bus trip from the CBD to the farm. The night before was the closing dinner and it was incredible fun hanging out with like minded bloggers. Almost too much fun... In any case, the first step was understanding the process behind turning chicken manure into rich nutrients for the mushrooms.
The chicken waste is aerated in a chamber to remove ammonia and to prepare it for mushroom growth. Our guide informed us that if this step is skipped due to the concentrated ammonia all you end up with is magic mushrooms. One of my new blogging buddies, the Skinny Perth, blurted out, "Hey, then where is the ammonia chamber?". Classic stuff.
The organic mix is then inoculated with mushroom spores and left to propagate for a few weeks. In one of the growing rooms we were treated to an amazing early view of the mushroom growing process.
Soon, what you get are the freshest and most beautiful mushrooms that are ready for packing and cooking. It's quite the process and I'm actually envious of those who get access to produce as fresh as this.
Picked and ready to go.
The day was capped off with a small cooking competition at the local TAFE. My crack team whipped up some Mole Empanadas and I threw together a spicy salsa with chilis, cinnamon, tomatoes, and star anise. We lost by 1/4 of a point... But we were robbed!
I guess the moral of the story is to take these kinds of opportunities when they arise. Most producers are very passionate about their product and will be more than happy to share. You just might learn something new!