It appears that the Ancient Greeks grew mushrooms, but it is not clear which ones. They were also grown in China in the 7th century.
White mushroom production began in France in the middle of the 19th century after the chance discovery that they grew wherever there was horse manure.
One day, it occurred to a certain Mr. Chambry, a market gardener from the rue de la Santé in Paris, to make use of a former quarry dug out under his gardens. Horse manure had been filtering in through the shafts leading to the quarry, and there, below, he discovered magnificent mushrooms that he hastened to pick and sell.
Success led him to expand this exploitation to other abandoned quarries in the surroundings, then to those in the suburbs.
When construction of the Paris metro began in 1890, the mushroom growers moved to the quarries of Saumur, which offered excellent conditions of darkness, temperature, and humidity, and which could easily be supplied with horse manure from Cadre Noir, the famous dressage school found there.
White mushroom cultivation quickly expanded wherever there were quarries, not only in France, but all over Europe and the rest of the world.
The leading producers are the United States, China, and the Netherlands, ahead of France.
Whether choosing white or cremini mushrooms, the cap should be evenly colored, firm and tightly closed with a veil under the cap. If the brown gills show, then the mushroom is too old.
Frozen and chopped, white mushrooms are often treated with sodium bisulfite. It is best to choose organically grown.
Fresh mushrooms should always be packed in a tray and covered in perforated plastic wrap so as to enable air to circulate and prevent the potential development of bacteria containing the botulinum toxin. They should be refrigerated for the same reason.
White mushrooms can be found canned in water or in oil, frozen (whole, chopped, or cubed), dried, and freeze-dried.
Before use, mushrooms should be cleaned and the part of the stem with soil should be removed (or the whole stalk if only the caps are required). They should be rinsed quickly, without ever being soaking, and dried. They are then trimmed if used whole, or sliced.
They can be eaten raw in salad.
They can be prepared à la grecque, or stuffed, pan-fried, made into soups, purees, and used as a side dish. They are an essential part of classic dishes such as blanquette de veau.
Diced and cooked in butter with finely chopped shallots, they go to form the duxelles used in a large number of recipes.
White mushrooms can be stored in the refrigerator for 3–4 days.
Contrary to popular belief, white mushrooms (or any other kind of mushroom, for that matter) are not "vegetarian meat". Their protein content is as low as that of other vegetables.
They have no fat, but they do contain carbohydrates, fiber, minerals (including zinc and selenium), B group vitamins, and a little vitamin D.
White mushrooms are grown on a substratum based on horse manure and straw: this mixture is made up according to a strict formulation. It is left to ferment in the open air, and is turned over several times, before being transferred to a pasteurization chamber.
Laboratory-produced mushroom mycelia are then dispersed in the mixture. It is mixed in bags or boxes placed in chambers at 24ºC, then covered in soil to provide optimal growing conditions.
These bags or boxes are then transferred to cellars or old quarries that are completely dark and have a high humidity content, where the temperature is 16ºC. They are harvested gradually as they grow, depending on the desired format.
There are two main varieties:
- The white Paris mushroom, with a white cap and sweet taste. The average size is 45–60 mm in diameter.
Larger specimens are known as Portobello mushrooms, with a diameter that can reach 12 cm.
Button mushrooms are sold in sizes smaller than 45 mm.
- Cremini, chestnut or brown mushrooms have a brown cap and a firmer flesh. They taste slightly of hazelnut and have a lower water content. They come in similar formats to white mushrooms.
Large cremini mushrooms are also known as Portobello mushrooms. They are widely grown in North America.
They should not be confused with Marasmius oreades, a wild mushroom also known as the Scotch bonnet or fairy ring mushroom.