Otway Forest Shiitake mushrooms

Author: Richard Cornish
Photography: James Evans

Victorian know-how plus Japanese mushrooms equals delicious results.

WHO In Japan shiitake mushrooms grow on logs of shii, a native evergreen. As we don't have much in the way of shii trees in Australia, Victorian shiitake mushroom grower Rob Wertheimer, part of a sustainable agroforestry community in the green hills of the Otway Ranges on Victoria's west coast, uses blue gum and sugar gum logs from neighbours' farms to grow his fungus with winning results.

HOW The logs are inoculated with shiitake fungus spores then left in cool, damp greenhouses, and nine months later the mushrooms emerge. The majority of the shiitakes are delivered directly to top restaurants (Brae, Flower Drum, The Bridge Room and Cutler & Co among them), but some make it to the retail market. The less-than-perfect specimens are dried, ground and blended with organic sea salt to make a rather excellent, umami-packed condiment that's perfect for sprinkling over a chicken before roasting.

WHY The mushrooms have a firm texture, but their skin has an unctuous quality, which makes them ideal for soaking up any sauce they're sitting in. They can take a good whack of butter, say, while maintaining the rich fungal flavour and subtle, complex scent of the cool, damp forests in which the logs once grew.

WHERE Otway Forest Shiitake mushrooms are available fresh in season (to the end of April) at Georgie's Harvest at the South Melbourne Market. The mushrooms are $7.50 for 100gm; the dried shiitake salt is $15 for 70gm. 

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