Melbourne's #1 Food Market

Parwan Valley Mushroom Tour

With Giovanna Walker

Did you know mushrooms are considered ‘third kingdom’? Neither animal nor plant, but instead a world unto themselves. That was the first fact I learned on my mushroom tour with Vikki Leng and Australian Mushrooms. Well, that, and the fact mushrooms need to be picked one-by-one, by hand, which is a lot more difficult than it sounds, trust me!

A group of about 40 of us were invited on a tour run by Australian Mushrooms, concluding with a cocktail lunch at Prahran Market to celebrate mushroom man Damian Pike’s 30 years at the Market. At 7.30am (and after a strong coffee) we set off on a journey to Parwan Mushroom Farm, about one hour’s drive from Melbourne. I had a romanticised vision of wide open fields, however when we parked outside an enormous undercover shed, I realised this wasn’t the case – not when you’re producing 50 tonnes of mushrooms a week.

Tim Adlington, CEO of Parwan Valley Mushrooms, soon explained that when growing mushrooms in bulk, they need to grow under cover – this way the size, shape and surface can be controlled – something that’s very important for mushroom buyers.

Once our hair nets and gloves were on, we were ready to go behind the scenes to check out the three processes: growing, production, and packing. There are 12 growing rooms, each containing six layers of mushrooms in soil, topped with compost. Button mushroom begin by growing from super fine white fibres in the soil, and once they reach the size of a pin, they can double their size in 24 hours! To keep up with such a speedy growth, the farm must run seven days a week.

Now for the picking. As mentioned above, it’s not that easy. We were shown how to twist the mushroom and pick it, but despite many attempts, we failed miserably. Either the stem was too long or we broke a mushroom. I now understand why each picker receives two weeks of training before they start!

Turnover is quick, the mushrooms harvested today will be transported by truck to shops in NSW, Victoria or Adelaide, and those  that don’t meet the strict requirements are sent to a huge slicing machine, packaged and sent out in bulk.

The tour finished up at Prahran Market with a selection of mushroom themed canapés, each featuring a different type of mushroom.  There were pickled enoki paired with oyster mushrooms, and shiitake with braised short rib. Even dessert had mushrooms – okay chocolate ones – which were made by Prahran Market’s chocolatier, Tad Lombardo, as a surprise cake for Damian Pike’s 30 year milestone.

As we left we were all given a large box of mushrooms. No excuses – it was time to go home and practise. The different mushroom tastes and combinations have encouraged me to expand my mushroom repertoire. I might even host my own mushroom-themed dinner party. Mushroom risotto? Mushroom burgers?  If I run out of ideas, I know I can always visit Damian Pike at Prahran Market for some ideas.

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