Though Northern California’s damp mushroom hunting season is currently months away, thousands of edible fungi are blooming in Sebastopol. They grow all year long, in fact, inside a 43,000 square foot warehouse hidden among the vineyards and apple orchards of West County.
Gourmet Mushrooms Inc. has been around since 1977, pioneering the cultivation of wild mushrooms in the US. The company grows more than 1 million pounds of exotic edible fungi including meaty Trumpet Royales, tiny Forest Nameko and Clamshell mushrooms, fan-like Maitake Frondosa and adorable Velvet Poppini. They also grow nutraceutical mushrooms used in health supplements and are currently developing cultivated morels.
Though cultivated exotic mushrooms are a tiny fraction of the mushroom market (button mushrooms are the big sellers), they’re gaining traction among foodies and of course chefs. You’ve likely seen the hard-to-resist Chef Samplers at stores like Oliver’s, Whole Foods or high-end menus.
Though the Sebastopol growing facility isn’t open to the public, the mushroom farm offers special group tours by appointment. Recently, I got an opportunity to peek inside at the forests of fungi and see the process start to finish — from baby spores to towering six-inch trumpet mushrooms.
Here’s the science-type-stuff: Gourmet Mushroom cultivation happens in a fairly closed system where small reusable containers are filled with a substrate (in this case, a fine wood-based mulch that is reused). The jars are inoculated (seeded, so to speak), and then given time to grow in dim, moist rooms that are carefully climate controlled. After they’re hand-harvested, the substrate is chopped up, sterilized and the process starts again.
I’d always imagined a much dirtier, soil-and-manure filled experience…which isn’t the case. The rooms smell of clove, more than anything, used as an organic deterrent to mites.
You can find Gourmet Mushroom packs year-round, but from time to time, the Sebastopol warehouse has mushroom sales, announced on their Facebook page and newsletters. More details online at mycopia.com.