There’s something mysterious about mushrooms. They’re oddly colored, asymmetrical and yet somehow intentionally shaped little curiosities that can also taste rather delicious.
There’s also an undisputable beauty to them. Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that a mushroom farm in Mattituck is operated by two noted artists who stumbled into the world of farming fungi. Agathe Snow, a mixed media artist, and her partner, sculptor Anthony Holbrooke, are the “accidental farmers” behind Mattituck Mushrooms.
“It was not planned,” Holbrooke said. “They were a pandemic endeavor and business. But the original ‘seed’ began with Agathe’s sister.”
Snow’s sister, Anne Apparu-Hall, originally ran a mushroom business, mushrooms.nyc.
“They could only do one flush of mushrooms [at a time], so they would bring their old blocks here,” Snow said, referring to an object that combines spores, food mix and other nutrients that help mushrooms grow. “We realized the mushrooms were growing great under our trees.”
The pandemic halted mushrooms.nyc, but accelerated the growth on Snow and Holbrooke’s 4-acre property.
“Mushrooms do a lot of the work themselves,” Holbrooke said. “Slowly and gradually, without direct attention, we started growing more and more.”
Snow and Holbrooke credit their friends at KK’s The Farm with introducing them to the greater East End farming community. Today, they supply other farms and restaurants while also selling direct to customers at the East End Farmers Market.
“I’m oddly not a mushroom person,” Holbrooke said. “That’s not how I came to this. I came to it from the opportunity and more from the farming and community element. Agathe deserves a lot of credit for realizing that there was no one else growing gourmet mushrooms out here at that point. We didn’t have to deal with competition. Ira [Haspel] at KK’s gave us a home and network of individuals that allowed us to really learn to farm.”
Snow looks at mushrooms as works of art created like sculpture.
“The real truth to it is that we’re both sculptors. There’s nothing like a mushroom,” she said. “[Discarded materials] we’re collecting for making sculpture also go into making growing boxes for the mushrooms.”
Mattituck Mushroom grows an interesting and colorful variety of mushrooms — blue and black oysters in the colder months, yellow and pink oyster mushrooms in the warmer months, as well as King Trumpet, shiitake, maitake, poplars and chestnut oysters. Another signature mushroom they grow is Lion’s Mane, which Snow recommends frying into patties.
The farm backs onto Laurel Lake Preserve and both Snow and Holbrooke believe their mushrooms benefit from the preserve’s large kettle hole, which was formed more than 10,000 years ago, giving their mushrooms a unique taste.
“We wondered why our mushrooms were getting great reviews,” Holbrooke said. “We’ve only been in the farming world for five years and, yes, we put in our best effort, but mushrooms are 80% water. We really think the [water quality] is a large factor. So the North Fork itself really deserves credit.”
While Holbrooke was not originally a “mushroom person,” Snow grew up foraging.
“Some are easy to identify,” she said, noting that chicken and hen-of-the-woods mushrooms that grow on tree trunks are common. “Foraging is wonderful; it’s so fun.”
While Snow said Laurel Lake Preserve is a great place to forage, some of the most interesting mushrooms are found at disturbed sites.
“Any kind of disturbed land has mushrooms,” she said, referring to places where fires or construction have occurred. “Wear boots and a hat, get acquainted with the trees around your house and neighborhood.”
Local farms and restaurants that distribute Mattituck Mushrooms include 8 Hands Farm in Cutchogue, North Fork Table & Inn in Southold and CSAs such as I&Me in Orient and Zilnicki Farms in Riverhead. Another partner is Tutto Il Giorno in Southampton and Sag Harbor, where Snow’s brother, Alex Apparu, is executive chef.
“By the end of the week, we have nothing left over,” Holbrooke said.
Mattituck Mushrooms may be a young farm by North Fork standards, but it’s certainly made a mark with its colorful and flavorful creations.