Did you know that the weather on Martha’s Vineyard is almost identical to that of Japan, where some of the world’s best shiitake mushrooms are grown? Well, thanks to the team of MV Mycological, Tucker Pforzheimer and Truman French, Martha’s Vineyard is currently harvesting some hana-grade shiitake mushrooms, just like the prized delicacies in Japan.
Out of hundreds of edible mushrooms, shiitakes stand out from the pack because of their flavor and health benefits. They are known for their immune-boosting properties, and are packed with iron, B and D vitamins, and selenium, a trace mineral that protects the skin’s elasticity. I’ve known of these benefits for a while now, after having read the book “Eat Pretty” by Jolene Hart, so as I stood in the endless rows of shiitake-sprouted logs, I snuck a few raw mushroom snacks while Mr. Pforzheimer and Mr. French gave me a tour of their place.
Tucked in a secluded wooded area in Chilmark (a location I couldn’t make my way back to even if I tried, as my sense of direction is severely lacking) resides Martha’s Vineyard Mycological. The guys met while studying mycology at Harvard, and became close friends. The idea of growing high-grade mushrooms on Martha’s Vineyard came to them late one night. With their studies under their belt and plenty of research, the company was born.
Grown entirely on local oak logs that they salvage from around the Island, the shiitake mushrooms are compared to the “Kobe beef of the mushroom world.” Inoculated in the spring and fall with spawn from the University of Wisconsin, the mushrooms are left to grow outdoors at their natural pace. The natural airflow, and the low moisture of oak wood, prevents any growth of bacteria.
It’s an incredible sight to see, rows and rows of logs filled with plump shiitakes ready for the picking. As a mushroom lover, I was left speechless that the Island has such passionate mushroom growers as Mr. Pforzheimer and Mr. French. They’re out twice a day, picking the perfect mushrooms to deliver to local restaurants and markets. Ultimately, their mission is to slowly but surely cut down on beef consumption and replace it with mushrooms. Mushrooms are not only delicious, they don’t consume the acreage and energy the beef industry does. Plus, there’s basically no waste in the mushroom industry.
In a culinary sense, mushrooms are a great replacement for any protein, thanks to their outstanding texture and ability to soak up flavors. One of my favorite ways to eat mushrooms is possibly the simplest method of all: sautéed in salted butter. They make the perfect snack, side dish, or main course over grains.
Restaurants all over the Island are using the mushrooms in their dishes, as well as off-Island restaurants such as the acclaimed O Ya. O Ya’s chef de cuisine, Nathan Gould, said, “Tucker, Truman, and I actually started working together last year, as they were the main resource for my foraging knowledge. They are growing the most beautiful shiitakes I’ve ever seen: Hana-style, grown on oak, they are dark beautiful caps, full of flavor and amazing soft yet dense texture. Currently we are using them in four dishes at O Ya Boston.”
On-Island, you can taste these shiitakes at the following establishments: Isola, the Sweet Life Cafe, Detente, L’Etoile, Port Hunter, and 7a Foods. If you’d like to cook them up at home, you can grab some fresh mushrooms at Cronig’s, Black Sheep, Morning Glory Farm, Rosewater Market, and Alley’s.