October 10, 2016

Paul Troughton first came across the cultivation of shiitakes while backpacking in England. His Zen Buddhist employer was cultivating them in the forest and selling at Covent Garden Market.

paul-troughton

Many years later Paul and wife Wendy were looking for a way to diversify their dairy farm income.

‘We got over here and joined the Otway Agroforestry Network and, at that stage they were really promoting them, and we thought, “Let’s go for it” and we did,’ said Paul.

The Japanese shiitake translates to tree mushroom, growing naturally on decaying trunks in warm moist climates.

Paul attempted to bring a regional touch, inoculating spores into local gum trunks, but the growth was too slow. He turned to the Japanese practice of composite ‘logs’ and is now harvesting year round and getting at least two successful yields from each inoculation.

‘They’re grown on a sawdust substrate, primarily with Applewood, but with some Oakwood and bran,’ Paul said. His production shed is filled with racks of logs sprouting mushrooms of various sizes.

mushrooms

The temperature and humidity are carefully managed to create optimum growing conditions with a day temperature of around 22 degrees and a fogging system keeping humidity at 80-90%.

‘There’s a diurnal temperature which is quite important,’ said Paul. ‘You want to simulate what they would be doing in the natural environment, then you get a better quality mushroom.’

Harvesting is labour intensive as they need to be carefully cut by hand. The Troughton family spend many hours working through the racks. Backpackers help out, reminiscent of where the passion began in Paul’s youth.

Sold under the label, Forrest Foods, Paul sells directly to restaurants, including Fusion, Bespoke Harvest and Brae, and through Melbourne and Sydney wholesalers.

In partnership with Otway Fields, the bottled range recently won gold in the National Food Awards. This provides an additional sales pathway and utilizes the smaller shiitakes not suitable for plated meals. Paul is experimenting with flavour infusions and patès, creating synergies between the dairy and mushroom sides of his business.