Why New Zealan­ders are not nat­u­ral-born mush­room for­agers

NZ Lifestyle Block - - Feature -

Most New Zealan­ders don't for­age for wild mush­rooms due to the risk of be­ing poi­soned by the many toxic types.

There are good rea­sons for that cau­tion. Hannes and Theres are strict about the cor­rect iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of ed­i­ble fungi and say it can be very tricky.

“It is ob­vi­ously vi­tally im­por­tant to get it right,” says Hannes. “We al­ways, al­ways ad­vise peo­ple to have an ex­pe­ri­enced per­son with them when they are search­ing for ed­i­ble fungi. For ex­am­ple, death caps of­ten grow close to, and re­sem­ble, field mush­rooms. It's bet­ter to throw them all away than take the chance.”

Hannes grew up wit­ness­ing the need for cau­tion first-hand. In his Swiss home­land, it's a tra­di­tional, sea­sonal rit­ual to for­age for wild mush­rooms in any for­est, and it's le­gal to do so even on pri­vate land. Lo­cals also have the an­ces­tral knowl­edge to safely for­age, but even there they have a back-up. Hannes' fa­ther was the mush­room con­troller in the fam­ily's home re­gion of Zug. Peo­ple would bring their bounty to his fa­ther to sort through, and he would sep­a­rate the ed­i­ble from the poi­sonous.

Both Theres and Hannes warn for­agers to be wary of false in­for­ma­tion on the in­ter­net. The in­ter­net is a use­ful tool they say, but there is a high chance of ac­ci­den­tally col­lect­ing poi­sonous fungi. They also never iden­tify fungi from pho­tos if some­one asks. This fungi ret­i­cence by New Zealan­ders was the big­gest chal­lenge to their goal of turn­ing their mush­room grow­ing hobby into a busi­ness. At the lo­cal farm­ers' mar­ket, peo­ple were too scared to give their mush­rooms a try. “In the be­gin­ning, it was a lot of talk­ing, talk­ing, talk­ing,” says Theres. “Now, we cook the mush­rooms up, right there in front of them at the mar­kets and eat them our­selves and peo­ple still walk away shak­ing their heads as if they think we are ut­terly crazy.”

Their sim­ple, ef­fec­tive mar­ket­ing strategy was to make an award-win­ning mush­room soup (get the recipe on page 32). In 2016, it took out the top prize in the pre­serves cat­e­gory at the Farm­ers' Mar­kets NZ Win­ter Food Awards. Neu­dorf Mush­rooms was also named over­all win­ner for best pro­duce from the kitchen bench.

"Peo­ple still walk away shak­ing their heads."

The cou­ple's quiet de­ter­mi­na­tion has seen their busi­ness grow big­ger ev­ery year. Hannes and Theres have never paid for ad­ver­tis­ing but they sell out ev­ery year, mostly thanks to wordof-mouth.

More re­cently, they've also been sell­ing to chefs who are de­lighted to find that they can pur­chase Nz-grown wild mush­rooms.

Hannes, Ringo and Theres check­ing on the soil.

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