The North Fork’s Cutchogue is known as the “sunniest place in New York,” a motto that seems ironic when one considers the hamlet is home to producers of a life form classically associated with darkness—mushrooms.
Jane Maguire and John Quigley are the East End’s newest growers of edible fungi. Long Island Mushroom Inc. now sees Pennsylvanian mycelium through to fruition 365 days a year from a temperature-controlled Morton building along the North Road.
Mycelium refers to the white, stringy part of a fungus, which is cultivated on a preferred substrate and ultimately tricked into flowering, or producing mushrooms.
“Nothing is grown on dirt,” Maguire said of the growth process. “There’s no dirt, no pesticides, nothing. Basically it’s just humidity, temperature, oxygen and, well, it doesn’t have to be complete darkness, but not [direct sunlight].
Long Island Mushroom Inc. currently raises three varieties—shiitake, oyster and maitake—though none are grown entirely on the North Fork.
Shipments of straw-filled bags of compressed red oak and paper pulp “logs” pre-inoculated with mushroom spawn are shipped to the Southold couple from Kennett Square, Pennsylvania— known as the Mushroom Capital of the World.
“We’re not there for the entire process,” Maguire said of the major difference between Long Island Mushroom Inc. and its South Fork predecessor, Open Minded Organics, which cultivates its own mushroom spawn in a Sag Harbor home laboratory. But Maguire added that becoming organic is not out of the realm of possibility for the future.
“We’ve only been doing this for a little more than a year,” she said. “We want to keep our integrity so it’s baby steps. And we don’t want to get the ball rolling too fast because it can be an avalanche. You want to make sure you know what you’re doing before you go onto another project.”
But Long Island Mushroom’s baby steps have been quite sizable. The mushrooms can already be found on the menus of several acclaimed East End and New York restaurants, including both Almond restaurant locations in Bridgehampton and New York, as well as Bridgehampton’s Topping Rose House, Shelter Island’s Vine Street Cafe, and Noah’s and the Frisky Oyster in Greenport.
Long Island Mushroom Inc. can also be found at Riverhead’s weekly farmers market, which takes place at 117 East Main Street between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Saturdays.
Maguire, whose background is in retail, said the farmers markets are particularly helpful to her as she learns about the business of growing mushrooms. Her partner, Quigley, has a background in finance and construction.
Despite the North Forkers’ newbie status as farmers, Maguire said customers have been both gracious and plentiful. “We’ve basically learned by the seat of our pants,” she said. “It’s a lot of trial and error and we’re still learning about it. A lot of the customers who come up to us at the farmers markets know more things than we do, so any input from the public is appreciated.”
“It’s been a very positive reaction…we have steady customers every week and once the summer starts ramping up, we’ll sell to Claudio’s and will be at the Greenport Farmers Market,” she said. “Sang Lee and other farm stands also carry our mushrooms in half-pound boxes.”
Right now, Long Island Mushroom Inc. is on a mission to get into more New York restaurants and Maguire’s retail background may prove useful for selling product to restaurants.
“I’m not the type to go in the front door,” she said. “I go around to the back and… I give [the chef] my sell, and that’s how I’ve gotten my foot into a lot of these restaurants. Because you can email the chefs, but a lot of times they’re too busy. I show up on a Thursday at 10 or 11:30 in the morning and seem to have good success that way.”
Meet Maguire or Quigley this Saturday, April 19, at the Riverhead and Topping Rose farmers markets.
For more information, visit longislandmushroom.com.