Log Grown Shiitake: The Ultimate Guide
At farmer’s markets I’m often asked what my favorite mushroom is – I usually say it’s whatever one I am eating at the moment. I love Chanterelles, Hen of the Woods and Black King Trumpets have this amazing flavor and texture that is indescribable and absolutely delicious. I also tell them that if I had to pick one mushroom to eat the rest of my life, it would be the Shiitake mushroom. Let’s be clear here, I’m not talking about just any shiitake, but only log grown Shiitake will do for me.
What are log grown Shiitake?
Log grown Shiitake are simply Shiitake grown on cut hardwood logs. Alternatively, they can be grown on sawdust blocks or compressed sawdust “logs”. Most commercially available Shiitake are grown on a sawdust mix. By growing on hardwood logs, it is possible to produce a much higher quality mushroom, in my opinion. Log grown Shiitake are a dense, meaty mushroom with a deep “umami” flavor with hints of garlic. In China and Japan there is a long history of growing Shiitake on logs.
Here at Deep Hollow Forest Farms, we grow our Shiitake primarily on Oak logs which are an abundant resource in our area. When areas are logged, the tree tops are left behind. We have found these tops to make excellent mushroom “food”. If left where they lay, they will be decomposed by fungi. By inoculating those particular logs with Shiitake, we are able to make use of the left-behind trees that enable us to produce delicious natural food.
Growing on logs
Growing Shiitake on logs is an artisanal and labor-intensive process. It requires patience and dedication in order to produce mushrooms of the highest quality.
The process starts with selecting and acquiring appropriate logs to grow the mushrooms on. A series of holes is then drilled into each log to allow for ample room to “plug” the log. The hole is filled, or “plugged”, with Shiitake spawn and capped with a wax or styrofoam cap. The logs are then stacked in our pristine forest for an entire year while the mushroom mycelium grows throughout the log. After a year, when the log is fully colonized, we can take advantage of a unique characteristic of shiitake. Shiitake can be “force fruited” by submerging them in water for 24 hours. After soaking, the log produces mushrooms that are ready to pick in about a week. By soaking different groups of logs each week, we are able to produce a crop of Shiitake weekly and on a very regimented schedule. When people ask me how long it takes, I answer “a year and a week.” Each log can produce 8 or 9 flushes of mushrooms over several years, making all that early work worthwhile!
Our Shiitake are grown outdoors in the summer and in a heated greenhouse over the winter. The Shiitake respond to changing outdoor conditions in ways that you don’t see in climate controlled grow rooms. In spring, we often see “donko” or flower shiitake. This happens in cooler, dry conditions when the brown caps crack exposing the white flesh underneath. This is an especially high grade of Shiitake with a concentrated depth of flavor. Cooler temperatures make denser, more ornamented caps while they tend to be less dense and have a plain appearance in the warmer more humid months. They are all delicious but there is something special about the spring Shiitake.
Using log grown Shiitake
Shiitake are a very versatile mushroom and work well in wide variety of dishes. During the spring, we like to saute them with asparagus, fiddleheads or hosta shoots. The meaty Shiitake with the green shoots is a winning combination and pairs incredibly well.
Shiitake are great for grilling, stuffing, stir frying, or making a wonderful soup. They are great in egg and pasta dishes and pair excellent with any type of meat. We slice them in many dishes, but prefer to leave them whole in some cases to ensure maximum flavor. Large shiitake can be marinated and grilled as a vegan “steak.”
I like to cook a whole Shiitake and put it on a breakfast sandwich for a quick snack in the mornings. For a simple summer meal, when Shiitake tend to be less dense, breading and frying small Shiitake and zucchini is a treat. These are just a few ideas and the possibilities are endless. Log grown Shiitake are an excellent addition to any culinary palette!