Edible Marin and Wine Country Winter 2010 : Page 21

A few months ago, as the leaves on the maple outside my kitchen window began to drift to the ground, I brought home a variety package of organic spe-cialty mushrooms. We had been eating corn on the cob all summer and it was time to try something new, something cozy. I dug out a wrinkled recipe, tucked unused in a pocket of my kitchen binder: Savory Bread Pudding with Exotic Mush-rooms. I sautéed the mushrooms with shallots and had just transferred them to a bowl when my 9-year-old son skipped by. He snapped up one of the tender brown caps and popped it into his mouth. Then he stopped skipping and came back for a second sample. “How do they fit so much taste into one little thing?” he asked, shaking his head in wonder. This is an excellent ques-tion: How do they? Most of the credit for this food the ancient Romans called “The Fruit of the Gods” goes to Mother Nature, of course, but there was a name and a local address on my carton of mushrooms. It turns out Gourmet Mushrooms, the distributor of MYCOPIA® specialty mushrooms and nutraceuticals, is located just outside of Sebastopol, a country drive away from my home in Marin County. In the 1970s, Malcolm Clark, a young student of martial arts and the future co-found-er of Gourmet Mushrooms, visited Japan and became en-chanted by wild mushrooms and the emerging art of mushroom cultivation. De-termined to understand ev-erything about how a mushroom grows in nature, he dragged a sleeping bag into the woods and set up camp under the trees, right next to a wild colony. There he spent his waking and sleep-ing hours, watching the way the exotic organisms responded to the sun, the moon, the mist, the myriad variables found in the deepest forest where fungi are most content. On a clear fall day in wide-sky Sonoma County, a trio of us wind our way out Highway 116 toward the Gourmet Mush-rooms headquarters to discover, some 40 years later, the fruits of Malcolm Clark’s observations—fruits being the operative word. The meaty little caps that we know and love are only the above-ground, harvestable “reproductive apparatus” of the mushroom. Technically, as any mycologist will tell you, the mushroom is a complex lacy network of mycelium, a mass of threads, otherwise known as hyphae, usually found settled underground or within a tree or stump. Clark and his partner, David Law, built a business selling both the mush-room fruit, for cooking, and the mycelial biomass, for health products. Following directions, we turn onto a dusty drive just before Merry Edwards Winery. At a driveway marked by small stone toadstools, we take a right into the parking area. At first glance, the Gourmet Mushrooms warehouse gives the same impression as Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory: This is a large mysterious place with workers busily loading and pushing carts full of bottles and cartons to and fro, in and out of doors, up ramps and onto loading docks. Like Mr. Wonka’s famous citadel of candy, there is an aura of innova-tion in the air surrounding the building. As Bob Engel, chef and chief of marketing, greets us and leads us across the inner reaches of this citadel of cultivated mush-rooms, the sense of elaborate industry only intensifies. We start the official tour on the far side of the ware-house looking out over a small mountain of sawdust compost gathered at the edge of the neighboring vineyard. What we are looking at is the “waste product” of Gourmet Mushrooms’ cultivation process. “That is spent compost,” Engel tells us. “First it is going to rest a while, then it is going to go onto Merry Edwards’ Pinot Noir vines.” Mushrooms fix nitrogen, as well as other beneficial ele-ments such as calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and iron, making spent mushroom compost a powerful garden amendment. EDIBLE MARIN & WINE COUNTRY WINTER 2010 | 21

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