Where do all the fungi’s hang out?
Have you ever thought that it's a shame that of all the weird and wonderful mushrooms that there are in the world, the only ones that we seem to see in the supermarkets are the classic white ‘button’ ones?
When really, there’s a huge variety of (and please forgive me for this next line, but it has to be done) ‘fun guys’ out there and I’m delighted to announce that the party has finally found its way to the Algarve.
You don’t actually need all that ‘mush-room’ to grow things
The intrepid couple responsible for this exciting new development are called Ion and Cláudia. Cláudia is from Serra de Estrela and Ion was born in Moldova and spent his early years in Russia before moving to the Algarve. It's for this reason that, going back to Ion's roots, that they chose to call the business Gribb Farm, as ‘Grib’ (гриб) means mushroom in Russian.
The couple met here but have spent the last few years living in London where Ion worked in the hospitality sector and Claudia was an optometrist. They have a three year old son called Jack and during lockdown they had time to stop and think about their future and what they would really like to do with their lives.
The couple are vegetarian and, shall we say, have always been ‘fond of fungi’. They are also extremely passionate about sustainability and the future of the planet. Combining these two things, they started to become very interested in urban farming which is a way of growing or producing food in the middle of a busy town or city in a way that uses less space, power and water than traditional agriculture.
After researching and finding out that nobody was growing mushrooms in this way in the Algarve, they took the very brave step of quitting their jobs and moving back to Portugal to follow their dreams of becoming urban farmers.
“But hang on just a minute” I hear you say. “I don’t know much about mushrooms, but the only place I see them growing is in the woods. How do you go about making them grow in the middle of a bustling metropolis like Portimão?” Well, this is exactly what I went to find out.
I found the shop in the heart of the historic part of Portimão. Ion let me in and showed me around their beautiful little shop that he and Claudia (under Jack’s supervision) have been working super hard to put together in the last few months.
The building has been all sorts of things in its long life, selling anything from cutlery, to clothes, to cakes. Again sustainability is very important to the couple and they are very proud to have 'revamped' the place using only discarded objects and even making their own furniture with bits of salvaged wood. They have also been decorating the walls with old tiles (and even the broken ones they’ve managed to puzzle back together) and have created wonderful collages all across the walls. All this proves what I’ve long suspected: that you don’t need money to make things beautiful - you just need a little imagination.
“Things will be great when you're downtown”
This was all lovely, but I was still in the dark as to where the mushrooms actually grow? This turned out to really be ‘in the dark’ - downstairs. I followed Ion down to the basement where I was very lucky as he let me in on a few secrets on how you actually go about growing mushrooms downtown.
Sustainable sawdust substrate
The first stage is you have to create the stuff in which the mushrooms will grow. This is called the ‘substrate’. Because all the mushrooms that Gribb farm produce are the types that would naturally grow on trees, the substrate needs to be wood-based.
And again, because Ion and Cláudia are so passionate about this project being sustainable, they have come up with the great idea of collecting the leftover sawdust and wood waste from companies in the Serra de Monchique. The really cool thing about this is that after they’ve used it to grow their mushrooms it becomes a fantastic fertilizer that they can then give back to local farmers.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. The next thing they have to do is sterilize it (to make sure that there are no other bacteria that’s going to cramp their mushroom style). They do this by putting the sawdust in special bags and placing them in a very clever ‘barrel’ (that Ion built) that fills with steam and keeps it at just the right temperature for a few hours.
Reach for the sky
With me so far? The other part of the process is to add a tiny bit of the mushroom’s spores into a sucrossy sort of liquid (don’t ask me exactly what). This gets the ‘mycelium’ to kick-off and when it's big enough they add it to their substrate (the now sterile Monchique sawdust). The bags slowly but surely get covered by this network of threads and, when it's taken over completely, the final stage is to place the bags in a special tent with a machine to keep it at just the right humidity - and the weird and wonderful mushrooms soon start spouting up and reaching for the sky.
So far they are producing just over 10 different kinds of mushrooms. Just to name a few, they have shiitake, oyster (of various different colours), shimeji, enoki and there's even some white fluffy ones called lion's mane - that apparently taste a bit like lobster.
They are all a great source of protein, vitamins, minerals and amino acids - making them something of a ‘superfood’.
How can I get me some mushrooms?
The couple has lots of chefs from local restaurants keen to have the chance to experiment with such fresh, unusual and wonderful mushrooms. But they also sell to the public, and if you are interested in getting a selection of mushrooms from what they call their ‘Colheita do Dia’ (Harvest of the Day) you can visit their site and either ‘Click & Collect’ (which gives you the opportunity to see their shop) or order them as they will deliver all across the Algarve.