Mushroom Trade History differs from the way we trade other fruits and vegetables in so far as there are two distinct ways of sourcing mushrooms. They can either be gathered or cultivated.
In Central and Eastern Europe wild mushroom gathering has been an integral part of the regional food culture since medieval times. Initially, mushrooms were gathered to supplement the family diet - and mushroom gathering was indeed a family affair.
Mushrooms do not "advertise" themselves, they need to be found in the first place. Soon people realized that they could commercialise their knowledge of mushroom gathering spots by selling the mushrooms they found to those unable, too busy or not knowledgeable enough. The main mushroom varieties gathered are Boletus edulis, also known as Porcino in Italy and Steinpilz in Germany; Cantharellus cibarius, also known as Chantarelle in the UK and Pfifferling in Germany; and, Morchella esculenta, also known as the Yellow Morel.
There are many more varieties though. Gathering mushrooms commercially is not for the faint hearted. Get it wrong and people die!
Gathered mushrooms are obviously only available on a seasonal basis and are eagerly awaited by aficionados. The Mushroom Trade History for gathered mushrooms has come a long way since its beginnings, something even the EU has recognised by publishing a separate EU Standard for Chanterelles.
This photo site shows wild mushroom gatherers and their harvest from around the world.
Unlike their gathered brethren, cultivated mushrooms are available all year around. In fact, cultivating mushrooms is the closest the produce industry comes to handling a 'manufactured' product, as just about any aspect of mushroom cultivation can be controlled to a very detailed level. USDA has compiled a substantial range of mushroom trade related reports and data sets.
It seems the ancient Egyptians already knew a thing or to about mushroom cultivation. From a more modern perspective, France led the evolution of the European drive towards supplementing wild mushroom gathering with a cultivated version, known as the Champignon. Today, Champignons are cultivated on all five continents and a few places in between and account for the bulk of cultivated mushrooms.
A neat summary of cultivated mushroom history can be found here and Mushroom Business, the global industry magazine, is also worth looking at.
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