Well, hell, the farmer really is in the dell: A tour of Hazel Dell Mushrooms, Fort Collins (+ notes on Panzano)
I 1st had the pleasure of Jim Hammond’s company last spring, during a mushroom dinner & discussion hosted by the Lab at Belmar as part of its fascinating Taste Test series (to be resumed this spring, I hear; do check it out from all angles). Mind you, it wasn’t 1 on 1 or anything; Hammond was a guest lecturer, on hand to provide a totally edutaining overview of his work as the founder of Hazel Dell Mushrooms in Fort Collins. Ever since, I’ve been cognizant of the frequency with which his fungi are referenced on local menus; just the other evening, in fact, they cropped up no less than thrice during an all-out gutbuster in which I participated at Panzano (more on this soon):
crespelle ai funghi—a mushroom-filled crepe soaking up its undersauce of fontina & truffle oil, here half-eaten yet still wonderfully springy & bursting with its own juices
grilled, sliced skirt steak beneath a veritable bale of fried-potato hay, flanked by mashed-potato scoops topped with sliced portobellos
perhaps the blue-ribbon recipe of the eve, due polli—chicken scaloppine & grilled chicken sausage over a mound of suitably soft-enough-to-spoon polenta with mushrooms & tomatoes
I believe the mushrooms in both the crepe & the latter dish were mixed***—although, as I can now confirm firsthand following a tour of Hazel Dell, which hosted an open house yesterday, Hammond & his crew only cultivate a few varieties. & boy, do they do it carefully (not to mention alone, at least in the case of certain species otherwise not commercially harvested in Colorado).
Located just off I-25 (exit 262), the facilities are modest sizewise, but virtually every inch is given over to the growth of buttons & portobellos,
tree oysters & king oysters,
caulifloweresque lion’s manes
& a species Hazel Dell has only just begun to experiment with called cinnamon caps:
The process is extraordinarily intricate: in spawn bags filled with sawdust mixed with rice bran & gypsum, the spores are “cooked” in a sterilizer at 350 degrees for 4 hours; then they’re incubated in insulation-lined, heated incubation sheds for 3–13 weeks—all that white stuff is mushroom that hasn’t fruited yet;
then they’re stored in “harvest rooms” kind of like the archives in Welles’s adapation of Kafka’s The Trial, only not nightmarish,
equipped with spindisk humidifers (hence the rather lovely blotchiness of the below image),
where the bags they’re in are opened, which allows them to fruit within 2–5 days (as the first several photos show).
We bought a 1/2-lb. of the lion’s manes, fine knobbed & furry specimens indeed,
& I sauteed them tonight in olive oil & a splash of balsamic with fresh favas, asparagus & scallops—which they tasted remarkably like: like scallops magically sprouted from sawdust.
***’Tis confirmed: oysters, royal king trumpets & cremini.