First day of half term holidays and the BFM took daughter no 1 to Annaghmore Mushroom Farm in Lurgan.
We were greeted by one of the two directors Jelena, the other being Eamon her hubby. They have been producing mushrooms since 2000 and in this site since last year. It is a modern and well kept, organised and clinical environment with great emphasis on cleanliness and good cross contamination control. The farm, produce and raw materials are routinely checked and samples analysed in labs. A great emphasis on Quality Assurance and inspections and certifications as well as traceability.
We started our tour by visiting one of 12 mushroom tunnels (7 large, 5 small). The first thing we did was don hair nets and cleaned our footwear with disinfectant before entering. The earthy, mushroom smell met us on entry and it was kind of musty. The temperature was maintained at 16-18 centigrade by fans blowing air through oil fired piping. There they were the fungi we were going to pick.
The process of growing mushrooms is thus: local compost and peat are mixed with mushroom spores; the compost is then laid down first with a smaller layer of peat on top; these have been pre sterilised. The peat is then watered and left in darkness. The spores quickly grown into a horizontal mesh of mycelium from which pins develope which grow vertically into mushrooms. Button mushrooms take 5-7 days to grow, closed caps take 10 days and if left for 15 will open into flat white breakfast mushrooms or brown portabellows. When open on the underside of cap are gills from which spores arise. All the mushrooms are picked and sorted by hand. They either have the stalks trimmed (clean cut) or rustic and natural ie untrimmed, with bits of peat attached.
The mushrooms will produce two more crops after 10 days respectively before nutrients used up (they grow in the dark and do not get watered else the skin will change colour). Sometimes the mushrooms develope scales on cup surface. The peat and compost is then disposed of and as it is waste it costs to get rid of it. The tunnel is then steam cleaned and sterilised and the cycle starts again.
Looking at costs a large tunnel will cost about £4k for new compost and £1k for peat. There are 70 employees with the majority from Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. The other costs are oil for heating and haulage contracts to name but two. So it is a labour intensive job, so please remember when you are buying your mushrooms, it’s a costly game which is in decline (from 1000 farms in Ireland down to 70 ish). The main customer for Annaghmore is ASDA UK and Spar locally.
We picked a selection of buttons and closed cups of differing sizes. Annaghmore grow and sell their own mushrooms and process mushrooms from other suppliers who grow the brown and large flats as well.
Afterwards we donned lab coats and washed hands before going to see the grading of the mushrooms and packaging. All in all a very satisfying trip.
When we got home we decided to make mushroom mattar ( Indian style mushroom and peas in a thick sauce). We cleaned all the mushrooms and trimmed them. Then I finely chopped 1 onion, 3 cloves garlic and put into deep pan which had 2 tablespoons of Broighter Rapeseed oil and one of ghee. Then I added a teaspoon of turmeric, teaspoon of salt, and two teaspoons of garam masala as well as a whole finely chopped tomato and teaspoon of ginger purée. This I let cook for 10 minutes. I then added the mushrooms and cooked for 5 minutes. Then added a pint of hot water. Let this simmer and reduce for 20 minutes before adding 1/2 cup peas and chopped coriander and cooked for further 10 minutes. There you have a dish knocked up in no time at all.
Once again the BFM shares the food love!!! Ciao for now