If you ask Jared Scherger about mushrooms, expect to learn a lot more than how his company, Hazel Dell Mushrooms, has become a mainstay mushroom supplier for Colorado restaurants and grocers across the Front Range. Like, for example, how mushrooms — part of the group of superfoods — aren’t vegetables. In fact, these meaty umami morsels are the fruit or flower of fungi. And as reproductive organisms, humans are more related to them than we might think.
After moving to Colorado in 2001, Scherger’s interest in fungi mushroomed after hearing a story on NPR in 2003. He went to the library, read a few books about mushrooms, and sometime after that discovered Hazel Dell Mushrooms in Fort Collins. He’s worked at the family-run mushroom farm under the guidance of owner Jim Hammond since 2007.
Hammond began producing certified organic exotic mushrooms in 1995. “He was a great mentor,” Scherger said. Over the years, Hammond helped develop Scherger’s knowledge, ranging from maintaining the growing and harvest rooms, to managing the company’s current crew of 18 employees. Hammond passed away in May 2020 from cancer. During his two years of treatment, new plans for retail and a pack room to ship fresh mushrooms were put on hold. Scherger and his wife, Lucinda Womack, took over ownership in September 2020.
With the Covid-19 pandemic, mushroom growing has taken a back seat lately, with Hazel Dell seeing about 75% of lost restaurant business up and down the Front Range, although grocery store sales have picked up some of the slack. After Hammond’s death, Scherger took the slow-down as an opportunity to complete work on the new pack room and retail facility. He hopes to be situated there by January 2021. The plan entails developing research to ensure the products hold up to ship fresh mushrooms out of state. Along with fresh products, the company will ship dried mushrooms and mushroom powder, which is great seasoning for any dish, he said.
“You can sprinkle the powder into food in the final minutes of cooking, which helps heat up the nutrients. In addition to being a great all-purpose seasoning, umami powder is a good protein source, too.”Jared Scherger, Co-Owner of Hazel Dell Mushrooms
Being scientifically minded, Scherger would like to sell mushroom grow kits, too. Mycelium — the vegetative body of a fungus that can produce fruits — feeds on a hardwood, nutrient-rich sawdust mixture. In the Hazel Dell grow room, “The substrate is steam sterilized in a polypropylene bag with a filter patch that allows air exchange from inside to outside. We allow the substrate to cool overnight, at which point the mycelium is added to the bag,” Scherger explained. “The substrate grow bags weigh about five pounds, measuring about 8 inches wide by 10 inches tall.”
Depending on the variety, it takes between four to twelve weeks for fungus to fully colonize the nutrient-rich hardwood substrate. Hazel Dell currently grows ten different varieties: shiitake, royal trumpet, oyster — including golden and pink varieties —, as well as black king trumpet, cremini, cinnamon cap, pioppino, and lion’s mane. Their mixed 5 pound case is most popular with restaurants.
But back to the science. As a nutrient-rich food source, fungus breathes in oxygen and releases carbon dioxide, just like humans. Although not all fungi are edible, the animal kingdom helps spread them along their reproductive fungi journey, which is why mushrooms occur in the wild. Scherger thinks that’s probably a good reason why mushrooms have evolved as superfoods.
While cooking with mushrooms has endless possibilities, one of Scherger’s favorites is cream of mushroom soup with a combination of shiitake and cremini varieties.
Until the new retail facility opens, consumers can buy direct from Hazel Dell. Look for the tent in the company’s parking lot Monday – Friday from 12pm-4pm – 3925 East County Road 32, Fort Collins. Visit the website: Hazel Dell Mushrooms for details.
CREAM OF WILD MUSHROOM SOUP RECIPE
- 18 ounces mixed cremini (or baby portabello) and golden shiitake mushrooms, wiped and dried
- 3 shallots, minced
- 7 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 4 tablespoons flour
- 6 cups low-salt chicken broth
- 2 egg yolks
- 1/2 cup half-and-half
- 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- salt and pepper to taste
Cook the recipe:
Trim mushroom ends and slice into 1/4 inch thick pieces.
Melt 2 T butter in a saucepan and sauté shallots for about 2 minutes, or until lightly softened.
Melt 5 T butter in the same skillet and add mushrooms. Sauté until lightly browned and liquid begins to release. Turn off heat and sprinkle flour over mushroom mixture. Return heat to low and cook, stirring constantly for 1-2 minutes but do not brown the flour.
Add chicken broth to mushrooms by cupfuls, whisking after each addition until broth is incorporated into mushroom mixture. Sprinkle with nutmeg and continue adding broth, whisking liquid until smooth. Simmer covered on low for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Turn off heat, let cool slightly, then purée 2/3 of mushroom soup in a blender, taking care with hot liquids. Pour puréed soup into pot and turn heat to low.
In heat-resistant measuring cup, whisk egg yolks into half-and-half. Whisk 2 tablespoons hot soup into cream mixture in batches, until 1/2 cup has been added. Slowly whisk the warm cream mixture into mushroom soup. Bring to a boil for 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Add the remaining 1/3 mushroom soup to cream soup and heat on low until warmed throughout. Do not boil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Serve in shallow bowls or mugs.
Recipe development: Emily Kemme, www.feedingthefamished.com