A boutique gourmet mushroom growing business, selling fresh and pickled mushrooms.
After a career as a chef in Auckland and London, Brian Turley was looking for a simpler pace of life that would enable more time with his young family. Having found few varieties of mushrooms available in New Zealand, he started Mighty Mushrooms, a boutique gourmet mushroom growing business, selling fresh and pickled mushrooms from the nearby Nelson Farmer’s Market.
Brian had a long career as a chef, working in Auckland and then London. After a move back to New Zealand with the goal of creating a home in Motueka, he was keen to find work that didn’t involve long hours and evenings and weekends away from his young family. He’d had a wide range of mushrooms available to him in London and was surprised at the lack of different varieties available in New Zealand, yet he also realised New Zealand food tastes were changing along with the rising interest in vegetarianism – a perfect market opportunity for the introduction of a selection of gourmet mushrooms.
Mighty Mushrooms began at home in Motueka. After researching options, he started with oyster mushrooms, a fast-growing, easy-care Asian variety. Brian describes the oyster mushroom texture and flavour as “meaty, with a floral bouquet”.
After oyster mushrooms, he branched into other varieties, including the New Zealand coral tooth mushroom Hericium. This attractive frilly coral toothed variety is from the Lion Mane family of mushrooms, known for its medicinal benefits in Asia. While the New Zealand variety hasn’t been closely researched, it does contain a number of compounds found in medicinal varieties offshore, that promote brain health. He describes this flavour as seafood, like a delicate crab or crayfish flavour, and it is often used in vegan mock crab or fishcakes.
Learning to grow the different varieties has involved a bit of trial and error in addition to Brian’s research. He set up a small humidity controlled growing room and hydroponic tent in his carport. All of his varieties are grown on wood-based substrates – unlike the button mushrooms Kiwis know well, which are grown on compost (and the smell alone would make a home farming operation in a built up area impossible).
The substrate is added to a special plastic bag with a filter to allow gas exchange. Mushroom spawn - the living fungal culture, called mycelium is grown onto an incubation substrate (such as rye grain) then is added to a wood/water substrate. Growing times vary, according to variety. Oyster mushrooms take about 3 weeks from bagging to harvest, while shiitake take 3 months. Mighty Mushrooms harvest about 30 kilos of mushrooms a week in summer months.
Some of the biggest challenges were overcoming bacterial and mould pests. The key has been careful adherence to sterile work areas, including the installation of a fume hood, with a hepa filter in a ‘spare room’ that has become the spawn room.
Initially Brian source mushroom spawn from suppliers. He also sourced spawn from the wild – with DNA testing to ensure he had the correct variety for consumer safety. Now most of his product is grown by cloning from existing mushroom stock – plating tissue onto agar plates. As the tissue develops the mycelium, pieces can be cut off and added to a liquid culture of sterile water and honey. This liquid culture can survive in the fridge for a month. The liquid culture is then added to sterilised rye berries where the mycelium works through the berries inoculating each one to form thousands of starting points for growing the fruits - this is the spawn stock that is added to the bagged wood substrate.
Only the first grade mushrooms are sold fresh at his stall, but an elegant solution to the ‘ugly’ and small mushrooms has been a line of value-added pickled products. Brian has created a range of different products including ‘Chilli, shallot and Lime’ and ‘Fennel, mustard and honey’. A recent addition has been two Thai soup flavours using the mushrooms. With a low pH and being pasteurised, Brian is able to safely make these products from his home kitchen.
The pickled products and the most of mushrooms he grows are sold at the Nelson Farmer’s Market, with some sales to local restaurants. Brain says it has taken time to get Kiwi’s to try the mushrooms and his pickled products, but he’s also benefited from the international tourists that were frequently found at the Nelson Farmer’s Market (pre-COVID). The pickled products have become increasingly popular, often outselling the fresh mushrooms on market days. In under two years from start up, Brian has been able to move to full-time work at his boutique mushroom growing operation in 2020.
COVID has been tough but they’re back at the markets now and in full swing. The oyster mushroom growing has been relocated to a secondary location while he continues to use his home set up for other varieties.
Mighty Mushrooms as a one-man band, is at full capacity now. Brian is philosophical - to expand the operation would mean a significant investment in equipment and a ramp up of costs around bringing in additional labour. His dream is to continue to enjoy his work and he really enjoys the boutique nature of his small operation – one that enables him precious family time. He says their family living costs are low and he thinks he’ll stay small for now, with a view to further expanding product lines in the future.