Thursday, April 26, 2012

Shiitake mushrooms & Gelato?

What does growing shiitake mushrooms have to do with Madisono's gelato and sorbet? Nothing really, except that growing shiitake mushrooms is where I, Matt Madison started my entrepreneurial journey. We wanted to utilize our farm property in eastern Ohio for profit and this was a great way to grow a different kind of produce that required very little maintenance. I have a great fondness for my shiitake mushroom beginnings, as it was the way I met and established many of the restaurant relationships I have today. My wife still tells the story of how I walked right up the the back door of the Maisonette restaurant in my dirty farm shirt and boots and offered my wares directly to Jean Robert DeCavel. He took one look at those perfectly grown shiitake mushrooms and bought them all. The rest is a shiitake to fresh farm produce to gelato history I'm proud of.

Shiitake mushrooms are grown organically from oak logs. The process is actually simple, it just takes some patience while nature does most of the work. I'd been thinking that it had been far too long since we'd had some beautiful 4 to 6" shiitakes of our own. We were spoiled for so many years! As fate would have it, I discovered an oak tree that had come down in the spring winds at our farm. I took advantage of the fresh limbs, cut and hauled about 24 of them home with us to make our own mini shiitake mushroom farm in our back yard.

Here's how we inoculated the logs:
First you order a quantity of mushroom plugs from a supplier such as Field and Forest. A plug is a wooden dowel filled with the shiitake spores or spawn. That's the white stuff in the grooves of the dowel.

Then we drilled holes at about six inch intervals all over the surface of the log.
Then we inserted the shiitake plugs into the holes.
We sealed the plug into the log with wax so that it doesn't dry out the spores before they have a chance to spread into the grain of the wood.

We've now stacked the logs in a shady spot in our back yard to wait for nature to run it's course. You can jump start the production after a few months by soaking the logs in a bath of water for 24 hours. The shiitake will grow first from the drilled holes, but as they do their job of decomposing the log they can pop up anywhere on the log. We'll keep you posted on our first crop and promise not to make shiitake gelato.

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