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Mmmm Is For Mushrooms! -- An Interview with Superior Mycology

Keweenaw Coffee Works spring mushroom ragout

It's finally feeling like spring out there! Along with celebrating the long-awaited return of songbirds, wild flowers, and warm temperatures, we're celebrating one of our most exciting local partnerships ever. We recently joined forces with Superior Mycology, a newly launched Keweenaw company that specializes in growing rare gourmet mushrooms.

Keweenaw Springtime Mushrooms from Superior Mycology

Superior Mycology started when Rohn, a lifelong mushroom forager, met Amy, a Michigan Tech biology student who was equally obsessed with mycology. “We were like peas in a pod, foraging together,” Rohn remembers. Before long, Amy had taken a class to get certified as a wild mushroom expert, and persuaded Rohn to get his own certification as well. 

Before long, though, Rohn and Amy had to admit that their appetite for mushrooms was too big for just a few months of foraging each year. “Not only is the foraging season short,” says Rohn, “but we’re competing with all the forces of nature. That means dirty mushrooms, buggy mushrooms, half-rotted mushrooms.” Going through long winters with a scant supply of wild mushrooms, he said, motivated them to start growing mushrooms at home.

Lobster mushrooms foraged in the Keweenaw peninsula

For their initial outing in mycology, they focused on wood decomposing mushrooms, which are the simplest to grow indoors. As it happened, these types of mushrooms aren’t carried by big producers that supply restaurants and grocery stores. “The ones we grow don’t have a long shelf life, and they’re really difficult to transport,” says Rohn. “Those drawbacks actually became an advantage for us.” By having a corner on the market for these specialty mushrooms, Rohn and Amy were able to build their mushroom love into a business in record time.

“We launched with four local restaurants in just one week!” he says, sounding surprised. “It just all happened at once. We have 14 varieties of oyster mushrooms we grow, as well as King oysters, black pearl-king hybrid, chestnut and amico, lion’s mane, combtooth, shiitake, reishi…” He laughs. “The list is long! And that’s just the gourmet mushroom side of it. Amy is an acupuncturist trained in traditional Chinese medicine, so we’re looking to expand our capabilities to work with some medicinal mushrooms, too.”

Having Fun With Fungi

What Rohn enjoys most about mushrooms is how much there is to learn—not only about growing mushrooms, but about the role they play in all forms of life on earth. “The more you look into fungi, the more you see how pervasive fungi in our living world. They’re just everywhere, in everything, interrelated with the life cycle of many organisms.”

Superior Mycology mushrooms at the Calumet Farmers Market

Close behind, however, is people’s reaction when they first encounter Superior Mycology. “We had people standing in line at the Calumet market, even in the winter market, just to come up and look at the mushrooms. The first thing they say to us is, ‘I don’t really like mushrooms, but I had to see these.’ The idea of having really high quality mushrooms, perfect in every way, is what inspired us to start growing. But I didn’t expect other people to be so enamored with their beauty—it’s definitely fuel for the fire.”

The beauty is just the beginning. Now it’s time to talk about flavor!

What Can You Make With Mushrooms?

We’re proud to be part of Superior Mycology’s pilot group of restaurant partners. Along with the Michigan House and Cafe and Jim’s Pizza, our KCW kitchen team has designed a seasonal menu that highlights the incomparable springtime flavor of these specialty mushrooms.

“It can be hard to get interesting ingredients this far north,” says KCW head chef Nate, “so I was stoked when I met Rohn at the farmers market. He really knows what he’s doing, and it’s exciting to see Superior Mycology grow. It’s really fun to be able to develop more of a regional flavor that is unique to the Keweenaw. I’d love to focus our menu entirely on seasonal availability, and this is the first step toward that.”

Keweenaw gourmet mushrooms from Superior Mycology

These unique flavors aren’t without their challenges. Superior Mycology’s offerings included a lot of mushrooms we weren’t familiar with, which meant a lot of time getting to know their unique flavors. Even Rohn agrees, “Flavor is the hardest thing to talk about. It’s so subjective, and it can honestly come down to how they’re cooked.”

Jim’s Pizza is featuring Superior Mycology’s lion’s mane mushrooms in a vegetarian “steak” dish, using a simple preparation on the grill that really highlights the caramelly savory-sweet flavors and meaty texture of this beautiful white mushroom.

At Michigan House and Cafe, they’ve created a whole meal around Superior Mycology mushrooms—a breaded and fried blue oyster mushroom appetizer, a grilled lion’s mane steak with a blue oyster mushroom sauce, and even a cocktail infused with chaga syrup.

And here at KCW, we’re offering a spring mushroom ragout made with a blend of chestnut, lion’s mane and black pearl oyster mushrooms. After simmering the shrooms until they produce an aromatic broth, Nate adds a squeeze of lemon juice, a smidgen of cream, and a handful of chopped parsley, then lets it reduce a little more before spooning the whole heady mixture over thick slices of brioche or challah bread. One bite will send you straight to flavor heaven, even if you don’t consider yourself a mushroom fan. In fact, especially if you don’t consider yourself a mushroom fan.   

Feeling hungry? Don’t worry—we won’t leave you hungry. Scroll down for the recipe to make this simple and sublime mushroom dish at home.

Recipe | Nate’s Spring Mushroom Ragout

Mushroom Ragout at Keweenaw Coffee Works

This simple preparation is a masterclass in letting exceptional seasonal ingredients speak for themselves. You can find Superior Mycology mushrooms available for sale at the Keweenaw Co-op.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups chopped gourmet mushrooms (lion’s mane, blue oyster, chestnut, etc.)
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 heavy pinch salt
  • 1 heavy pinch cracked black pepper
  • 1/2 cup mushroom stock (have more available if needed)
  • 1 tablespoon heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 tablespoon lemon juice
  • Pinch of freshly chopped parsley
  • Slices of thick bread, such as challah or brioche

Preparation

  • Heat a large pan or skillet on high for several minutes.
  • Add butter and simmer until brown.
  • Add mushrooms and salt, and let cook for about 3 minutes. Stir and shake pan to redistribute mushrooms, then let cook for another 2 minutes.
  • Add stock and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, until slightly reduced.
  • Add black pepper and cream, and reduce for a few more minutes. (Add more stock if the mixture begins to look dry.)
  • Remove from heat, drizzle in the lemon juice, and add parsley.
  • Spoon the mushroom mixture and broth over toasted or pan-fried bread slices.
All photos courtesy of Superior Mycology (except where noted).
See more photos on their Facebook page here.
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