When Australia rode on a sheep’s back, the wool town of Goulburn needed a rail link so it could ship wool to the ports in Sydney. The railway was originally a single track, which passed under Mt Gibraltar near the town of Mittagong. When the line was widened, the old tunnel was closed off. With the trains rushing by in a parallel tunnel, today the disused tunnel is quiet. But its dark and dripping interior has another purpose now – it’s filled with exotic mushrooms.
The idea of using railway tunnels for mushroom farms originated in the 1950s. In the glory days of the canned white button mushroom, the occasional spotty fungus wasn’t a problem for mushroom growers. But as Australians moved to eating fresh mushrooms, looks became more important and farmers moved their mushrooms to climate-controlled sheds. But Dr Noel Arrold has discovered that the railway tunnel is perfect for growing exotic mushrooms from the forests of Asia.
Shiitake, oyster, shimeji and wood ear mushrooms love the cool dampness of the railway tunnel. They sprout from plastic bags and artificial logs so prolifically that they have to be picked daily. Several varieties of the mushrooms grow on aged eucalyptus sawdust. The mixture took Arrold some time to perfect, but it allows him to grow mushrooms no different from those that grow in the forests of Asia. Confirmation of this authentic taste comes from none other than Tetsuya Wakuda.
Li Sun Exotic Mushrooms are sold to restaurants in Sydney and Brisbane and to some retailers. “We’ve found farmers markets to be a very good way of introducing people to these exotic mushrooms,” says Arrold. People are more likely to try new varieties of mushroom when they can talk to someone about how to cook them. And these mushrooms work just as well for pizzas and risottos as they do for Asian recipes.
Whether you’re a rail history enthusiast or a food lover, there’s something fascinating about a railway tunnel full of mushrooms. Our food tour of the Southern Highlands ended satisfyingly – with an exotic mushroom pizza topped with sheeps milk cheese.