The fleshy fungus that adds heft and flavor to any dish, savory sumptuousness to any salad, the mushroom is the meat of the vegetarian world. Although not actually a meat or vegetable, mushrooms, with their various flavors and varieties, are a welcome addition to any meal. And chances are, if you’ve eaten a mushroom dish recently at Trax Restuarant, 555 Lagiola, Dettera, Forest and Main or Pie and Plate Cafe’ in Ambler, you’ve enjoyed the most local of mushrooms from the Ambler Mushroom Company and its proprietor, Heidi Merscher.
We recently sat down with Heidi to talk about the Ambler Mushroom Company, how it came to be, and what the future holds for this ‘hyper’ local grower. We say ‘hyper’ because if you live in Ambler, you can’t get mushrooms any more local than if you grew them yourself – Heidi’s production facility is located on Church Street in Ambler Borough.
At first glance, you would never confuse the setting for a full-fledged mushroom making enterprise. Seeing a single family home with a 5 car garage (the 5 car garage probably should have tipped us off), you don’t expect to enter a multifaceted mushroom operation, but that’s exactly what you’ll find during a tour of the facility. Each room of the house is devoted to a different stage in the life cycle of the mushroom – mother culture refrigeration, incubation room, growing room…it’s almost overwhelming. What’s even more overwhelming is the edible art Heidi produces in her facitly, right here in Ambler. Varieties of mushrooms grown include: King Trumpet, Phoenix, Oyster, Pioppino, Shiitake and more. Heidi supplements her operation with mushrooms from Kennett Square including familiar varieties Portobello and Cremini.
Born and raised in Maryland, Heidi found her way to Ambler after years of moving back and forth to New Mexico, plying her original trade as a Graphic Designer, Digital Illustrator, and then eventually, a part owner of a Web Technology firm. Finally, after 35 years, Heidi had enough of standing in front of a computer and decided to switch gears and form her own mushroom business. Always an organic gardening aficionado, mushrooms intrigued Heidi.
“I’ve been doing organic gardening since I was a teenager,” Heidi said. “My grandmother had a huge garden and my mother is also an avid gardener…Mushrooms are kind of mysterious and weird…they don’t grow like green plants…and there is not a lot of info about growing them in America…they are way bigger in Asia”.
After gathering as much info as she could from out-of-print materials and some trial and error, Heidi began successfully growing Shiitakes on logs and Oysters on straw…and an empire was born.
This past season, Pennypack Farm and Education Center offered Heidi’s mushrooms as an add-on to their Winter CSA. Heidi also began introducing her mushrooms to local restaurants, and let’s just say, the popularity of her product…mushroomed.
“The feedback I’m receiving…people really seem to like them!”, Heidi said. “The gratitude I receive from people, it’s really helped me connect with the community. I’ve lived in Ambler for over 22 years and I’ve met more people since I began the mushroom business than in that whole 22 year span!”
If you haven’t met Heidi yet or haven’t tried her mushrooms, there is a perfect opportunity coming up for you to do both. On Tuesday, March 7th, Trax Restaurant and Cafe’ in Ambler is having a special “Fun and Fungus” dinner featuring Ambler Mushroom Company’s mushrooms exclusively. This is an especially awesome menu if you are a vegetarian! Check out the menu below and make your reservation. Welcome Ambler Mushrooms to your taste buds and say hello to a local grower! Delicious!
To make a reservation for the mushroom dinner on Tuesday, March 7th, call (215) 591-9777 or click here. Reserve now as spots are going fast!