Every year I pick two or three ingredients to experiment with and this year, mushrooms took centre stage in my kitchen. From porcini stocks to chanterelle sauces, reishi coffee and sauteed trumpets, fresh truffle shavings and enoki brownies; I’ve tried to get my hands on the freshest ingredients to make the best umami-packed dishes of both the savoury and sweet kind. But little did I know that a treasure trove of local mushrooms stood in absolute glory, a short drive through the Mgarr countryside.
Mgarr Mushrooms Ltd is home to Malta’s
freshest mushrooms of the white button
and brown button variety. You’re probably
quite familiar with their produce already, as
these funghi-loving experts provide tonnes
of culinary shrooms to Malta’s supermarkets, directly to the
restaurants we all know and love and they also sell directly
from the Ta’ Qali Farmers’ Market for those easily attainable
caps of mushroomy goodness.
Mushrooms are strange organisms. Belonging to the
Kingdom of Fungi, these porous edible spores make our
taste buds kick into a full-on frenzy the minute we chomp
down on their peculiarly textured flesh. Even though most
of us buy our mushrooms of the week from our green
grocer, these fun-guys are neither vegetables or fruit as
they do not grow off edible plants and neither do they
Mushrooms come in many different
shapes and forms, some of which
grow on fallen leaves, others
on living barks of trees and
some also in nutrient rich
compost - the button
mushrooms grown at
Mgarr Mushrooms are
such an example.
Finding the right
mushroom for the
right dish might be
difficult if you are not
an absolute connoisseur,
but keeping buttons as your ultimate go-to
is always a good idea. Whether it’s cremini
or champignon aka brown button or white
button respectively, the value that these beautiful
caps and stalks bring to a chef’s table is incredible. In other
words, you can’t go wrong with a button mushroom.
Established in 2014, Mgarr Mushrooms is run by a
passionate and devoted family (John, Carmen and
their children Riana, Rico and Ronalie) whose in-depth
knowledge of mushrooms surpasses any textbook or
fact-filled website. Much like the travelling spores needed
to grow mushrooms, their enthusiasm and experience
in the world of mushrooms fills the air - a visit to Mgarr
Mushrooms is like no other.
John and Carmen began their mushroom adventures some
20+ years ago where they were introduced to the trade,
learned the ropes and grew their passion for this humbleturned-
top-grade product. But when your passion for a
project takes over, stemming into your family interest and
piquing in excitement with every mushroom yield, you
know it’s time to upgrade from that button cap to a full-on
hearty Portobello - and thus began the family’s investment
in Mgarr Mushrooms.
From left to right: Ronalie, Carmen & Riana
Speaking with John gives you all the insight you need to get
your mushrooms growing, his interest in the field is what
makes their family business so fulfilling and so worth-while.
“We’ve been in the mushroom industry for over 20 years,
working with local producers, learning from overseas
cultivators and exploring different techniques throughout
the years. What we know about the industry, we learned
by doing. Figuring out what went wrong with the previous
batch and making sure it doesn’t happen with the next
Nodding in approval Lino, Mgarr Mushrooms Consultant
comments with a smile on his face; “Working
as a consultant means that you need to
choose who you work with rather
wisely. The time you spend with
one client is time taken away
from another potential
client. Working with
Mgarr Mushrooms is a
consultancy dream -
and one that I treasure,
not only because of
the sheer amount of
effort that goes into
preparing each batch
of mushrooms, but also
because of the attention
to detail and devotion to the industry and its
impact on the market - not to mention their
environmental appreciation also.”
Every yield of buttons that comes out of the Mgarr
Mushrooms grow houses are shown the love and delicate
touch that they deserve. Each mushroom is hand picked,
trimmed off any compost and placed into thoroughly
washed breathable boxes with the famous Mgarr
Mushrooms logo imprinted on the side. With a collection
rate of approximately 32kg per hour, these button
mushrooms are in high demand. And rightfully so.
“At the end of the day, you get what you pay for on the
market. And truth be told, even though we have the
freshest and most natural mushrooms on the market, our
produce is still far more cost-effective for the consumer,”
comments Carmen. “Think about it this way… the weight
of a mushroom is primarily made up of water; mushrooms
lose their water weight rather quickly - you’d notice a great difference in a week in fact. Now imagine if your mushrooms are packed and made to travel overseas before they arrive at your local supermarket, wouldn’t that take the quality down a notch or two?”
The produce at Mgarr Mushrooms is prepared on an all-natural compost bed that lies upon a hay packing required for a healthy and nutritious growth cycle. These two layers are placed onto a breathable net that is washed, re-washed and reused for minimum waste in the growing process. The 3 layers are kept within a humidity and temperature controlled environment until the spores start doing their thing and tiny white or brown caps appear to sprout from the nutrient rich compost. Some grow rooms even reach humidity levels of 94% and temperature levels of approximately 20 degrees.
You might have noticed that hygiene and cleanliness is a big part of the mushroom business, and if you caught up on that little fact and doubted it for a second, you wouldn’t be the first one to do so. Second generation mushroom-eer Riana spoke about her love for the industry and the misconceptions that come along with the job.
“We do what we do because we love it. Working with live natural produce is one of the biggest perks. We understand that many people associate mushrooms with an unsanitary environment, seeing as they thrive in the growth of manure, but the reality can’t be further from that. Every inch of our premises is cleaned and re-cleaned on a daily basis; we’re quite adamant about that. When people visit our mushroom farm they’re quite surprised at what they find and what they see around them - this always makes us happy.”
Mushrooms are living things and therefore prone to infection; so keeping parasites at bay is a big part of the job - especially when you’re running a zero pesticide facility. In fact all outbreaks of infection are killed off with a salt cure that eradicates all pesky intruders in the fungi’s surroundings. No nasties, just natural salt. That’s right, the fungi at Mgarr Mushrooms are pesticide-free and completely natural. So apart from the fact that they are making sure to reuse their netting, their packaging solutions and prepare each order with a hand-picked, hand-trimmed quality check they’re also making sure that their ‘waste’ is in no way harmful to the environment. In fact their compost does not contain any nitrates whatsoever, meaning that it does not damage Malta’s water bed when it’s sold as a natural soil conditioner to local farmers to help nourish future crops such as cauliflower, promoting that natural white glow! Talk about a circular and environmentally conscious economy.
The 3 growth cycles at Mgarr Mushrooms all deliver a wonderful display of nature at its best, albeit temperature controlled and humidity regulated with filtration setups and watering systems installed for ultimate quality assurance, these naturally grown mushrooms bring a variety of produce that make every kitchen complete. From the first and strongest growth that is packed with water, firm to the touch and crunchy enough to eat raw in a salad or pickled as a garnish, to the second growth resulting in thinner stalks and exposed gills, ideal for richer flavoured soups and stocks and finally the third growth cycle that presents the thinnest stalk of all and the perfect ingredient for a restaurant looking for an elegant display of umami-richness with a turgid cap and palatable stalk to captivate the eye as well as the palette.
Whether it’s a brown mushroom or a white mushroom, a Portobello or a button, the produce at Mgarr Mushrooms surpasses all expectations - allowing the consumer to fully appreciate the value of local mushrooms in taste, quality and family-value.