These days just about everything can be farmed, from deer to abalone. But the mushroom in its many edible varieties is a trickier breed. If you buy produce regularly, you may have noticed that the prices of some mushrooms, such as shiitakes, have dropped in the last few years. That's because of farming.
According to Tim Nakaya of Monterey Market in Berkeley, many of the best-selling mushrooms — including crimini (brown), many varieties of oyster, and the platterlike portobello — are farmed, some locally. (Monterey has local suppliers for portobellos, for instance, but at times during the year also flies them in from Pennsylvania.) Currently, about half of Monterey's mushroom supply is gathered in the wild — much of it from West Coast locales, but some, too, from Europe. “Right now we're selling chanterelles from Finland,” Nakaya says. Monterey also sells European morels, along with truffles from France and Italy. Domestic truffles are sometimes available, a steal at $100 a pound; the European kinds cost 10 times that.
That mushroom prized by the Italians, the porcini, also grows wild on the West Coast, and makes a brief fall appearance in local markets. Why isn't anyone farming it? “They don't know how yet,” Nakaya says. “But they're working on it.”
Peace on 24th Street
The dust seems to have settled from skirmishes between eateries and their neighbors along 24th Street in Noe Valley. The upheaval began in January, when Rustico to Go, a panini bar at the corner of Sanchez, found its permits pulled pending review by the city. Issue? The place was authorized to sell only takeout, but it had places for customers to sit inside. Rustico to Go survived the review and eventually opened in the spring.
Next target was the 24th Street Cafe, at Vicksburg. Owner Joe Eadeh found his permits being challenged by Noe Valley lawyer Henry Epstein, who says he was “working with” a group of neighbors unhappy about the noise, smells, and crowds generated by the street's many restaurants. According to Eadeh, when the two sides agreed to hash out the dispute under the auspices of Friends of Noe Valley, Epstein and company didn't show. “I haven't had any complaints” since then, Eadeh says. “All's quiet now.”
Epstein agrees that “nothing happened” in the case of the 24th Street Cafe because the city doesn't bother to enforce its own planning code. “We still don't know if they have their planning permit,” Epstein says of the cafe. “A search of the records six months ago didn't turn up a permit.” Epstein sees the struggle as one between “commercial forces and people who want to preserve the character of older neighborhoods.”
By Paul Reidinger