Meet The Duo Growing Exotic Mushrooms In The Heart Of Fortitude Valley
What’s cooking?By Dinushka Gunasekara | 5th December 2023
Did you know there’s a mushroom farm in the heart of the Valley? Putting the ‘fun’ in fungi, Urban Valley was founded by two hospitality veterans to meet the calls from the Brisbane dining scene for 100% Australian grown gourmet mushrooms. Now, their produce is featured in menus across the city – from Baja’s rich chestnut tostaditas to La De Lah’s spicy take on Malaysian berempah.
Having recently launched into Harris Farm, getting your hands on local, quality mushrooms has never been easier (or tastier!). Below, we chatted to the mushy team behind Urban Valley about their inspiration, fave dishes, and what makes a good mushroom…
What inspired Urban Valley?
Urban Valley was inspired in early 2021 by Joel (a hospitality veteran who had managed at some of Queensland’s best restaurants including Wasabi, Arc, Yacht Club Hamilton Island, and Qualia) and Rachel (who was working in fruit and veg distribution at Brisbane Markets in Rocklea and had a master’s degree in molecular genetics).
As a supplier, Rachel heard the top chefs in Brisbane asking, “Where’s the good mushrooms?” That’s because the mushrooms which have historically been available at the market have been the ones you’re familiar with at the grocer – punnets wrapped in plastic, sweating, potentially old, and almost always of imported origin. As the Brisbane dining scene had been growing rapidly over recent years, the demands for quality, unique, and local produce also increased. So with extensive hospitality knowledge, passion for quality food, a love of Brisbane’s dining boom, experience in lab technique, and perhaps a bit of that eccentric post Covid ambition, the concept for Urban Valley was born.
The great thing about farming gourmet mushrooms is that they’re grown completely indoors in a controlled environment, so you don’t need land or sunshine or seasons. You could grow these mushrooms essentially anywhere in a vertical farming set up, on racks inside specialised coolrooms. The other convenient feature about farming these mushrooms is that they’re wood loving and need to be grown in a sterile environment. That means there’s no unpleasant smells from a compost based substrate, unlike button mushroom farming.
With Joel and Rachel living in Fortitude Valley, they believed in the area and it was also where the nightlife and restaurants were thriving. So if these gourmet mushrooms could be grown anywhere, why wouldn’t the farm be based in the heart of it all? Being so local was important when Urban Valley was established because it also allows them to host tours through the farm, educate chefs or consumers, and hold special events to interact with the community.
At the farm, Joel and Rachel handle the entire life cycle and growing process of the mycelium – from cloning to growing fruiting bodies. Urban Valley is proud to use 100% Australian ingredients for the substrate, which is important because so much of the industry relies heavily on imports. Reducing food miles is important at the end of the day – it’s better for you and the environment.
In your opinion, what makes the perfect mushroom?
The perfect mushroom will always be one that’s fresh and local. The taste really is different! It should be plump, with good colour. If it’s in a punnet, it should not be waterlogged or soggy looking. Our best advice is to seek out the local mushroom farms in your area. There are so many great little farms all around Australia with more popping up as the popularity grows. Chances are there’s someone in your area, so do a quick google and check your local farmer’s market.
As far as picking the perfect mushroom variety, it’s like picking a favourite child – they’re all perfect in their own ways so it’s about picking the right mushrooms for what you’re using it for. Try lion’s mane for a meat replacement as it has a texture surprisingly similar to protein. The large caps of oyster mushrooms are great for tearing, and are a better option than button mushrooms in many recipes. Our shimeji mushrooms are excellent to leave whole and roast or skewer, while chestnuts and pioppinos have a crunch that’s ideal in stir fries.
What has been a highlight dish featuring your mushrooms on the Brisbane dining scene?
It’s so inspiring to see how chefs use our mushrooms in such different and delicious ways – from Baja’s tiny chestnut tostadita that packs a rich earthy punch, to the shimeji goreng berempah with sambal tumis at Lah De Lah with its rich and spicy Malaysian flavours. Our favourite at the moment though has to be Alba Bar & Deli’s Urban Valley mushrooms, garlic chives, and yolks. It’s a mixture of varieties from the week’s harvest sauteed with butter, olive oil, and a generous handful of garlic chives, then finished with a fresh egg yolk gently placed in the centre with cured egg yolk shavings over the top. It’s the most pure, unadulterated expression of the mushrooms that effectively highlights the beauty of the product with nowhere to hide. It’s just our mushrooms with the coating of butter, garlic, and egg, and it simply doesn’t get any better than that.
How would you convince a mushroom hater to give it a go?
Button mushrooms do have a reputation for being bland and spongy, and that’s usually our first introduction to the mushroom world, but don’t stop there. We’re often told that even people who hate mushrooms are surprisingly converted after trying gourmet varieties, so even if you’re a “mushroom hater” please don’t lump them all into one category. All mushrooms are not the same. After all, you wouldn’t say you hate red meat just because you don’t like lamb, right? You’d still try the beef! Gourmet mushroom varieties have an underlying earthy flavour but they vary in umami and even sweetness. The biggest difference which changes people’s opinions however is mainly the texture. Gourmet varieties are more of a firm meaty texture, rather than spongy. So be adventurous and try a new variety – it will surprise you how different they are. There’s even a mushroom that tastes like bacon!
What other tips do you have for budding mushroom enthusiasts?
Know where your mushrooms come from; buy from a reputable local source. It’s surprising to know that even if a punnet of mushrooms says “Australian grown” it can still be from a completely imported substrate or base growing material. So, spend those extra few dollars to get a good quality product and support the local producers in your area – in this industry, if mushrooms are cheap they’re definitely imported. We’ve also recently launched into Harris Farm, so you can find a range of our mushrooms and grow kits in their Queensland stores.
Header image by Markus Ravik