"MADE IN ONTARIO
TheStar.com Food Jennifer Bain
Mushrooms gain fans
Local foods are all the rage this year. But how many can claim 24/7/365 status?
They're grown indoors, year-round and around the clock, and harvested daily.
If you want to get all 100-mile diet about it, you can stick to Ontario mushrooms because our province grows half of Canada's 250-million pound, $325 million mushroom crop.
Whites (button) and browns (cremini, portobellos and baby bellas) are now standard. Specialty growers are stepping up production of oyster, enoki and shiitake mushrooms. Exotic varieties – like hon shimeji and maitake – are popping up in grocery stores and markets.
Mushroom lovers need never settle for imports.
That's the message Mushrooms Canada is spreading this year with two catchy ad campaigns.
The first shows a white mushroom emblazoned with a red maple leaf alongside the message: "Locally grown."
The second shows a white mushroom with a red scarf wrapped around it to drive home the "Fresh even in winter" point.
"Local just seemed to be a hot topic," explains Mushrooms Canada marketing manager Brittany Stager.
"We'd also taken part in Foodland Ontario's `Pick Ontario Freshness' campaign this year and want to refocus people on Ontario products."
Mushrooms Canada launched in 1955 as the Canadian Mushroom Growers' Association.
It rebranded in May 2006 with a new emphasis on promoting fresh mushrooms to consumers.
Since then, the group (whose members produce 90 cent of the mushrooms grown in Canada) has been active, cooking at public events such as the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, enticing media to tour mushroom farms, driving consumers to the website mushrooms.ca to view recipes and background information.
And yet, mycophobia persists.
"Mycophobia, or fear of mushrooms, is mainly in the Anglo-Saxon community," notes Bill Wylie, of Wylie Mycologicals in Wiarton. "The white button mushroom became accepted, but there is still a fear of going out into the wild and picking wild mushrooms and getting poisoned and dying."
You're welcome to join the Mycological Society of Toronto and learn how to safely forage. But a trip to the supermarket or farmers' market should suffice for most of us.
I grew up loathing (not fearing) mushrooms – but that was when they came canned (slimy/rubbery) or white (homogenous and dull).
Now I adore meaty portobellos/creminis and woodsy shiitakes, and am delving into the exotics, too.
That's right on trend with changing consumer tastes, according to Hank Vander Pol, president/CEO of Rol-land Farms.
Overall, mushroom consumption is holding steady, but browns "are growing at significantly higher rates" of about 10 to 15 per cent in the last three to five years.
"The brown mushroom tends to have a little bit more flavour than whites do," Vander Pol concedes.
His Campbellville-based business (likely Canada's largest with 1,200 employees and five farms) expanded into growing browns six months ago. (It sells under the Essex Kent brand.) And it rarely sends anything to the cannery.
The health benefits of mushrooms are also being touted.
We're all supposed to be eating more vegetables, and a half cup of cooked, sliced fresh mushrooms (1 cup raw or about 4 ounces/113 grams) is considered one serving.
Mushrooms Canada reports that this sized serving of white button mushrooms offers 14 calories and no cholesterol, is virtually fat-free and low in sodium, and has 1 gram of fibre. It's also high in riboflavin, niacin, copper and an antioxidant called selenium.
Another thing the industry is trying to alter is the mistaken image that mushrooms are grown in the dark in stinky manure.
During a tour of Rol-land, Vander Pol and farm manager Harjit Bamrah take pains to point out how their compost (horse manure mixed with wheat straw from race tracks) is pasteurized and deodorized during a multi-step outdoor process before being taken indoors to help grow mushrooms.
"For a mushroom farm, we smell pretty good," says Vander Pol – and he's right.
Large farms like Rol-land grow mushrooms in trays. Each of its 26 growing rooms is filled with stacks of these hemlock trays.
Mushroom spawn is mixed with pasteurized compost, topped with peat moss and given about 14 days and some water to grow. True, mushrooms don't need light, but the staff who monitor/harvest the rooms do, so they're kept lit.
Gloved workers harvest the mushrooms by hand, deftly trimming the ends with a knife and packing them into containers for supermarkets.
Three things are key from this point on. Mushrooms must be kept cold (in supermarkets and in your fridge), they're as delicate as eggs and bruise easily, and they keep best when stored in paper bags.
"Quality is always a problem at the supermarket," laments Wylie. "As for brown paper bags, Canadian mushroom growers have been pushing this directive but supermarkets haven't seemed to adopt it.
"Most things are consumer driven," he adds.
Meaning, I think, it's up to mushroom lovers to take a stand.
Portobellos With Roasted Garlic and Asiago Couscous
A Conestoga College team (Laura Kallay, Bridget Dignard and Nathan Lavoie plus course director Philippe Savaria) won Mushroom Canada's recent "Make it With Mushrooms" competition with this dish.
2 large cloves garlic
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 large portobello mushooms (each about 5 inches wide), cleaned, stems (if any) diced, caps cut in thick slices
1/2 vidalia/Spanish onion, finely diced
1 carrot, peeled, finely diced
1 stalk celery, finely diced
1/2 cup whole wheat couscous
1/2 cup boiling water
1/4 cup finely grated asiago cheese
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
Kosher salt + freshly ground pepper
Trim root end of garlic, leaving skin intact. Place on square of foil. Drizzle with oil. Fold and seal to form package. Roast in preheated 350F 15 minutes to soften. Open foil to cool slightly.
Discard skin. Mince or mash flesh.
In small saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium. Add onions. Cook, stirring, 3 minutes or until translucent. Add carrots, celery and mushroom stems (if any). Cover. Cook 3 minutes or until vegetables are crisp-tender. Add couscous. Stir in boiling water. Remove from heat. Cover; let stand at least 5 minutes. Stir in cheese and garlic.
Meanwhile, mix remaining 1 tablespoon oil with vinegar. Brush all over portobello slices. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
In medium skillet or grill pan over medium-high heat, cook 1 to 2 minutes per side or until mushrooms release liquid, liquid is evaporated and mushrooms are tender at surface but firm in centre.
To serve, divide couscous mixture over 2 plates. Arrange equal portions portabella slices over each.
Makes 2 servings."
Courtesy of the Toronto Star