By Meda Kessler
Photos by Ron Jenkins
A software support engineer by day, Michael Schatte tends to his gourmet mushroom farm at night.
And by farm, we mean a spare room at his Burleson home. Inside a climate-controlled tent, there are racks of large plastic bags filled with mushroom mycelium nestled in a mix of oak sawdust, soybean husk pellets and millet. The raw materials are not pretty, but the mature mushrooms are gorgeous. Exploding out of the bags are large heads of oyster mushrooms in shades of pink and blue and sculptural king trumpet, also part of the oyster family. They’re ready for picking, as is his crop of lion’s mane, which resembles heads of cauliflower and smacks of lobster.
All are works of art, from the fine gills under the caps to their delicate colors.
Schatte started his fungus business innocently enough. “I got a grow-your-own kit for oyster mushrooms from Home Depot about a year ago and, surprisingly, it worked.” Since then, Schatte has become a serious student of mycology and mushroom production. “It all starts with the mycelium. It’s an amazing organism that secretes the enzymes that break down nutrients to make mushrooms grow. In forests, mycelium can branch out several miles underground. Some species of mushrooms also form ‘relationships’ with trees. They supply water, and the trees provide the carbohydrates.”
In Schatte’s controlled environment, you can see the white mycelium spreading throughout the plastic bags. We admit, it’s all very alien looking. For Schatte, it’s a magical world that requires the right humidity; a certain kind of light; extremely sterile conditions, utilizing commercial HEPA filters; and lots of patience.
In December, Schatte launched the Midnight Mushroom Co., offering his product at farmers markets in Arlington, Burleson and Mansfield. His delicacies have caught the attention of local chefs, including Juan Rodriguez of Magdalena’s in Fort Worth, who buys from Schatte directly.
For now, it’s a part-time job, although a demanding one, but Schatte loves it. “I’ve always been drawn to unique things. Mushrooms fall into that category. Plus they taste good and are good for you.”