The first time I tasted the mushrooms cultivated by Gourmet Mushrooms, Inc., of Sebastopol, California, they were grilled over a wood-burning fire by a professional chef. We savored the skewered mushrooms while dining outside at a winery overlooking the hills of Sonoma County. I had to wonder: Would the same mushrooms taste as wonderful cooked by me without the fire or the view?
I found out by ordering one of the two beautiful baskets of fresh mushrooms offered by this pioneer of exotic mushroom cultivation. For $57.50 (which includes shipping), you get about 2 lb. of the most beautiful mushrooms you’ve ever seen. With the exception of a few detached caps, they arrived in pristine shape. My basket came with eight different varieties, all cultivated (and some trademarked) by Gourmet Mushrooms. (In season, a basket might also include hand-picked wild mushrooms as well.)
An enclosed color pamphlet offers general cooking directions for each variety, as well as a perishability guide. This is something to be aware of: Order these mushrooms to arrive on the day (or the day before) you plan to use them; some of the varieties will keep three to five days, but many should be used as soon as possible. To appreciate their flavor most simply, I quickly broiled black oysters, blue oysters, shiitake, and cinnamon caps, seasoned only with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper. The result was wholly satisfying: juicy, meaty, and silky, each variety contributing its own flavor to the delicious mix. Despite the price tag, I would order these mushrooms again; they’re worth it. In fact, I might try the bigger basket (4 lb. for $82.50) and split it with a friend for a little better value.