When we think mushrooms we normally think of white or brown button mushrooms or maybe flat brown mushrooms in the fruit and vegetable isle at the supermarket; or maybe you are lucky enough to know where you can pick fresh field mushrooms at this time of the year. They are all very safe options but there are lot’s more mushroom options growing wild, you just need to know which are edible.
Hannes (pronounced Hanniss) and Theres Krummenacher are passionate about mushrooms, they used to forage for them in their home country of Switzerland where foraging for mushrooms in autumn is traditional. Hannes says his parents and their parents before them foraged and when he and Theres moved their lives to this side of the world wild mushroom foraging was one of the things they missed so they set about growing their own, wild mushrooms that is not white button mushroom. Rather than setting up humid growing houses to grow these popular varieties Hannes and Theres wanted to grow wild mushrooms, mushrooms with flavour and different textures so they planted a small forest.
As I walked around part of their forest last week we talked about the trees they had planted, why they selected these specific trees and we talked a lot about how mushrooms grow in the wild. Hannes used terms that sounded almost like a foreign language to me and this bit can get technical but in essence a mycorrhiza is an association between a fungus and the roots of a vascular tree, different fungi grow on the roots of different trees. As the roots of the tree grow so the fungus spreads, feeding off the roots of the tree and producing mostly delicious mushrooms for us to eat. I say mostly because lots of poisonous, inedible mushrooms colonise on trees in the same way.
Of course mushrooms that grow in fields don’t have this same symbiotic relationship with trees; the focus for Hannes and Theres is the mycorrhiza mushroom in its various forms.
Enough of the science lesson, what about the people. Hannes and Theres travelled extensively around the Americas and the South Pacific and ended up in New Zealand, they thought the North Island was a bit dry and while they loved the West Coast it was a bit wet so Nelson was the place they chose to make their new home. While Hannes is an electrician and Theres is a midwife they wanted to grow things and bought their piece of paradise in the Moutere Hills.
Hannes says in Switzerland it was a dream and privilege to own a house let alone some land, most people live in apartments, so being able to buy 50Ha and work towards earning a living from that land is their dreams come true. They built a house that is ‘off the grid’, they rely on solar power and a generator to run their chillers to keep the freshly harvested mushrooms in during the autumn season, and have planted some 2000 trees inoculated with various mushroom varieties. They have a small home vineyard, a small citrus grove, olive trees and then the trees to support the mushrooms including hazelnut, chestnut and various pine cultivars.
When you are growing mushrooms in the wild you need to be patient, it takes time for the various fungi spread on the roots of the trees and over time the quantity harvested will increase as the root systems spread the fungi below ground so each year their production is increasing. Last year they gathered and processed about 800kg of fresh mushrooms and this year they expect that to be about 1.5 tonnes.
The main crop is the saffron milk cap mushroom. I love these because they are very fleshy and don’t cook away to almost nothing, they hold their shape and are sensational in risotto.
The range of products produced by Hannes and Theres at Neudorf Mushrooms includes dried wild mushrooms and mushroom salt as well as fresh mushrooms in season. There are a couple of products that come from the trees too, chestnuts that they dry as well and a special treat they trialled last year, fir tip molasses. The fir tip molasses is made by collecting sap from the growing tips of the branches, adding sugar and intensifying it by boiling it until it has reduced to a syrup. The end product is like a richer form of maple syrup and is simply delicious.
You can buy Neudorf Mushrooms product from a number of stores and many local and national restaurants use their products but from the 1st April they will be at the Wednesday farmers market selling fresh saffron milk cap mushrooms as well as their dried products and freshly made, warming wild mushroom soup for you to enjoy at lunchtime. Check out www.neudorfmushrooms.co.nz
If you want to learn more about wild mushroom foraging then they also have tours of their property and will show you how to identify various mushrooms because, as Hannes’ father used to tell him, you can eat every mushroom, but some of them only once!