I spent a fascinating afternoon with Hannes and Theres Krummenacher, touring their farm and business, Neudorf Mushrooms. I thought you'd like to read some of the things I learned and get some of their delicious mushroom recipes.
They planted a forest on their 120-acre property in Upper Moutere over a decade ago, not to grow wood but to grow mushrooms. Coming from Switzerland, they were used to eating a wide variety of fungi that most kiwis would run a mile from. Hannes's father was a mushroom controller back in Switzerland, who worked at the local police station and would identify and inspect harvests of wild mushrooms for people to ensure they were all edible. Hannes calmly informed us that all mushrooms are edible, but some of them only once!
Their business Neudorf Mushrooms is quite different from other commercial mushroom farms in New Zealand because the types of mushrooms they "farm" are forest dwellers, forming a symbiotic relationship with the roots of individual trees. There are no warm dark sheds full of piles of rotting compost for growing mushrooms on this farm.
The farm has legitimate free-range fungi, and that has bought about its challenges for Hannes and Theres. Their fungal flock is at the mercy of the elements and the predators that range the farm. Hedgehogs love newly hatched mushrooms, not to mention rabbits and possums, which they wage an ongoing battle against.
We started our tour at their drying facility and shop where they sell all their lovely mushroom products. Armed with a basket of freshly picked mushrooms, they gave a great show and tell about the different varieties that grow in their forest. Here are the ones I can remember the names of:
Clockwise from left, Saffron Milkcap, Birch Bolette, Slippery Jack
They are also the first people in New Zealand to try farming the famous Italian porcini mushroom. No harvest yet, but that is something to look forward to. Propagating these forest mushrooms is a bit of a dark art and sounded a lot like truffle growing with everything going on under the surface. Which it is, the mushrooms we know and love are just the edible fruit of a vast web of mycelium that forms the actual "plant."
As we wandered the forest, Hannes pointed out where these webs run, emanating from a tree along a root or in a circle, and he could tell which tree a given mushroom was coming from. We had to be careful where we walked, not too close to the trunks, and although they graze sheep in the younger forests that haven't created a canopy yet, they definitely wouldn't graze large clodded cattle that would damage these delicate underground webs.
Apparently, the tree gets as much from the mushroom as it gives in return. The fungi that attach themselves to the roots help the tree take up more water and minerals, and good nurseries sell their trees already infected with these beneficial hosts. Infecting a young seedling is also a bit of an unknown art, but Hannes and Theres freely share what they try, which includes planting seedlings in the root zone of already infected trees for a year or so before transplanting them to a new home.
They harvest every day during the season, selling fresh to restaurants and at the weekly Nelson Farmers Market. What is not sold fresh is sliced by hand for the wood-fired drier that they have built, and the dried mushrooms are sold in a variety of delicious products, including a Wild Mushroom Risotto, Mushroom Salt and my favourite store cupboard standby their Dried Wild Mushroom Mix. I call this kiwi porcini, a rich blend of dried mushrooms from their forest that add a huge flavour hit to any recipe.
As we end the tour back at their home we are treated to a bowl of 12 mushroom soup, barbecued saffron milk cap mushrooms and fresh homemade bread. We chat some more over lunch about their family and farm and I get the real feeling that they are starting to reap the rewards of all their hard work and foresight.
Walking through the chestnut and stone pine orchard with Theres I said I could see it would keep them busy and she matter of factly replied: "Yes, but being is busy is good - what is the use of sitting around?". A bit like the mushrooms they farm, this couple has quietly gone about something remarkable and then as if out of nowhere, the fruits appear. I came away well impressed and inspired by them.
Here are two of their stunning recipes - a posh mushroom pate that is super easy to make and a rich mushroom soup. Click here for recipes.
Visit Neudorf Mushrooms to view their product range and find stockists here.