On a recent Sunday at the Kingston Old Bus Depot Markets I saw a stall offering smart, contemporary mushroom garden DIY grow kits and 'Cuppa Shrooms'. Since early 2016 Fungi Co, run by Peter Wenzel, his partner Leonie McGlashan and his sister Nina Wenzel, started designing mushroom science materials for primary and secondary education. They want school communities to be aware of the applications and benefits of fungi that can efficiently process waste and are a nutritious and valuable crop.
Peter has degrees in Science and Fine Arts and a background in mushroom science and research into innovative growing techniques to develop high quality mushrooms. He says mycology, the science of fungi, is an under-appreciated field and they are working to bring new and exciting mushrooms to Australia's palate. The trio has developed their own tissue culture bank, collecting cultures from around the world, including edible, medicinal and colourful varieties and source mushroom spawn domestically from Li-sun Mushrooms in Mittagong.
Fungi Co's specialty is growing unusual varieties of mushrooms on sawdust, bran, straw, woodlogs and coffee grounds. After making the Cuppa Shrooms in Kambah, they incubate them for about a month, depending on different species. Some mushrooms start growing within two weeks, some in just a couple of days and you can get several crops out of each kit. As a customer in Belconnen says online, they turn your house into an indoor farm.
The first plate full Kambah harvest for the home kitchen included Italian brown oyster, a strain that grows frilly margins and has a stronger firm flavour and texture than other oyster mushroom varieties, white oyster, shimeji and magnificent pearl oyster.
The range of their fresh, exotic gourmet mushrooms have diverse flavours and textures. These include shimeji, shiitake, black fungus, a range of oyster mushrooms - grey, Italian brown, pink, yellow, magnificent pearl - as well as rare chestnut mushrooms, nameko and golden enoki.
Nameko have a compelling flavour, think mushroom meets pork meets chicken with a nutty flavour. They are slow growing taking up to a month for growth from the time you start watering them and nameko are only available in the cooler months. Great in risotto.
Golden enoki, a wild strain, grow in bouquets. Light golden to dark brown caps, with velvety crunchy stems they have a fruity, delicate aromatic flavour. The golden enoki DIY grow kits will grow without being watered, though the other varieties need a daily spritz of water.
A productive fun activity was getting a dress shop model, headless and armless, that they called Fungalina. They dressed the model in a red spotted bikini top and created a fringed frilly skirt using pink oyster mushrooms from which they were able to harvest delicious mushrooms for months.
Fungi Co's fresh fungi are being used in a mushroom parfait dish by Mocan and Green Grout in New Acton, complimented with a range of other cooked and pickled mushrooms.
Peter says Fungi Co started selling at Kingston OBD Markets this year, on Sundays from 10am to 4pm and, for him, the start-up is a weekend activity. They sell a range of mushroom education materials for school science, art, gardening and cooking classes, with hands-on experiments that demonstrate the biology, diversity and beauty of fungi. Their school sessions on sustainability and bioremediation show that mushroom mycelium can eat through a variety of carbon-based materials including newspaper and even old clothing. The DIY mushroom gardens and super-cute Cuppa Shrooms are stocked at the Heritage Nursery, Yarralumla.
Fungi Co is part of Science in ACTion in 2017 under the theme of sustainability being held at the Kingston OBD Markets from 10-2.30pm on Friday 11 August and 10-4 on Saturday 12 August.
Fungi Co will be giving away samples of their sustainability kits. They are also collaborating with Foodish at Floriade 2017 with displays of mushroom gardening and mushroom 'living art'. They are also running several sessions on 20 September at 2pm for Local Produce Rocks, to demonstrate how to cook some of these unusual mushrooms in savoury and sweet dishes.
Nina Wenzel has twenty years experience in tourism and hospitality and runs a bed and breakfast. Leonie McGlashan has a masters in education and a degree in food science, with experience in production of fermented foods. They say don't be worried about how to cook 'exotic' mushrooms.
Despite having a unique flavour and texture, each variety can be used as you would a 'normal' button mushroom - in stir fries, creamy pastas, risottos, even terrine or stroganoff.
The best way to experience the full flavour of these mushrooms is to fry them in a hot pan with the tried-and-true butter, oil and garlic combo.
While most of the Asian mushrooms are best cooked, some of them can be eaten raw. Enoki are great as a garmish or in salad or vegetarian dishes or in Vietnamese-style rice paper rolls.
Susan Parsons is a Canberra writer.