Umami has become a bit of a culinary buzz word over the past couple decades to the point where we might be a little sick of hearing about it. Regardless it is without a doubt the one flavor I seek out the most. Mushrooms are a great carrier of this flavor and if handled with a little care and respect can be utterly extraordinary and transformative.
When I first started becoming an obnoxious foodie I would often shun many simple and beautiful products like button mushrooms. When I was doing my culinary in France I learned how to work with these sorts of blank canvass flavors. It’s all in the handling. I was amazed how good these humble ingredients could be transformed with a little caramelization (or a ton of butter). Add in some shallots and fresh herbs and it can be quite amazing. Oyster mushrooms are kind of the same way.
I’ve been in Salcedo Village in Makati for almost a year now and feel lucky to live right next to the best farmers’ market in Manila. Every Saturday the Salcedo Community Market is open from 7:00 am to 2:00 pm in Jaime Velasquez Park on Leviste St. Here you can find some of the best local produce, cheeses, breads, seafood and meats. This is where I discovered Ministry of Mushrooms.
Ministry of Mushrooms is a small purveyor with unwavering focus-oyster mushrooms. I had the chance to meet with owner/partner Marco Lobregat last week to discuss his business and just generally chat about fungus at length. Marco is more passionate about the oyster mushroom than anyone you will ever meet. He worked in sales and marketing and his family has a long history with agriculture. His family owns a farm in Batangas and has cultivated this land for years growing coconuts, mangos and cassava.
Marco had been living in Spain working in sales and marketing when he decided to move back home to the Philippines. Using his family’s land he formed a partnership with Jose Javier Ortoll and Victor Sala and created Ministry of Mushrooms. Right now they are focused solely on oyster mushrooms, both dried and fresh, but they have plans to grow into shiitakes soon.
Look around in your grocery store in Manila at the mushrooms in the produce section and you will pretty much only find imported products. These are usually packaged on a styrofoam tray and wrapped in plastic and have not been consistently refrigerated. So what you end up with is a mushroom that is limp and damp on the surface which don’t cook well at all.
The first time I purchased oyster mushrooms from Marco the difference was immediately apparent. They were plump and fresh and the surface was still dry. That makes them ideal for sautéing or roasting. Here’s a beef Bourgignon I made with them back in December.
I know that mushrooms are a little bit off the radar in the Philippine diet but I think that is unjust. It’s great having local food purveyors like this that are high quality and focused. They are always available at the Salcedo Market but you can also contact them directly for delivery which I have done on multiple occasions. I urge anyone who is interested in eating local, fresh ingredients in the Philippines to check these guys out.