Hazel Dell mushrooms provide Colorado's 'shroom service
This is the first in a series of pieces profiling Colorado-grown products...and what some local restaurants do with them.
In rows and rows of old shipping containers in dark, dank buildings, fungi grow are growing in neatly stacked and sealed plastic bags. These modest mushrooms will soon be shipped out to hundreds of restaurants, farmers' markets and supermarkets across the West.
When most people think of the phrase "farm to table," they think of apple-cheeked farmers toiling in sunny fields, delivering bushels of leafy produce right to the chef. Certainly, the vision of odd-shaped mushrooms sprouting in the dark isn't as romantic as amber waves of grain. But few places have done more to further the connection between restaurants and producers than the Hazel Dell Mushrooms farm near Fort Collins, and even fewer have its presence on local menus.
Far from the shriveled slivers of fungi that dot Pizza Hut pizzas and Olive Garden tortelloni (usually white button or portabello), Hazel Dell mushrooms are meaty, unruly and often downright ugly. The oyster mushrooms are twisted, wrinkled, smallish. Lion's mane mushrooms are delicate, soft and disconcertingly...furry.
But cooked right, these 'shrooms can knock you out with their freshness and flavor, especially when compared to store-bought, plastic-wrapped creminis and shiitakes. Credit is due to Jim Hammond of Hazel Dell, who brought organic, gourmet mushrooms to Colorado.
About thirty years ago, Hammond lucked into a job overseeing huge buildings packed with mass-produced mushrooms for Dole Pineapple's mushroom division, which still packages the majority of supermarket mushrooms. After three years, he was looking for a change -- and he stumbled right into it. "I came across some people growing exotic mushrooms in a crappy old shed," he says, "and decided to start playing around with growing mushrooms in my garage."