Mmm...umami

Shiitakes at North Tabor Farm

by Sally Segall

Shiitakes at North Tabor Farm

Elizabeth Cecil

Shiitakes are cultivated on hardwood logs, which give them an earthy aroma with umami flavors.  

Mathew Dix and Rebecca Miller have been raising shiitake mushrooms for the past twenty years and selling them for fifteen at North Tabor Farm in Chilmark. I visited the farm on a cool, windy October day and was greeted first by the two resident dogs, suspicious at first but soon eager for a game. They followed us to the shed where mushrooms are grown on four-foot-long oak logs, stacked vertically around a plastic pool filled with water. During the summer, the logs are soaked for twenty-four hours in water previously used to wash the large quantity of vegetables they produce, thus conserving water. Soaking in cold water forces the logs to produce mushrooms that would normally not fruit until the cooler weather of the fall. Since summer is high tourist season, this is when these desirable and highly nutritious mushrooms are most in demand.

Mathew buys a variety of spores called “Westwind” from a distributor. He drills holes in the logs and introduces the mushroom spores, which are mixed with sawdust. After filling the holes, he caps them with wax. It takes a year for the spores to incubate while they colonize the vascular system of the logs. They prefer the heartwood in trees of medium age harvested in cold weather when they are full of sap. The spores go dormant when the temperature reaches fifty degrees Fahrenheit.

Mathew dries some shiitakes for sale in the winter. He is now considering raising oyster mushrooms as well, which grow on softwood trees like Tupelo, abundant on the Island. Coveted North Tabor shiitakes can be found at the West Tisbury Farmers’ Market and on menus at various Island restaurants.