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FAT OF THE LAND: Alpenglow Mushrooms

Story by staff, photos by Rob McGovern and Candace Miller

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The Uncompahgre Valley is as variable as it is vast, from the corn fields of Olathe to the hot springs of Ouray. In between, vegetables are grown, cattle are raised, pigs and poultry and
are bred, and hops and hemp are harvested. 

Just outside Montrose City limits, Alpenglow Mushrooms, a division of South River Aquaponics, is composting, spawning, casing, pinning, and cropping and producing masses of mushrooms in the process.   
The facility was opened as South River Aquaponics in June 2014. Four years later, SRA was awarded a grant for innovations in energy and water saving technology from the Colorado Department of Economic Development and International Trade which was used to build the  mushroom production laboratory and grow houses.
Currently there are two main varieties of mushroom grown at Alpenglow, with a third currently being cultivated. The fairly ubiquitous and globally popular oyster mushroom is a relatively safe bet. Loved by chefs, home cooks and natural remedy enthusiasts alike, oysters are low in calories and they contain lovastatin, a form of cholesterol lowering statin. (In fact, mushrooms in general are also low-carb and have practically no fat and contrary to myth, they have more than a dozen vitamins and minerals, including vitamin B6, folate magnesium, zinc and potassium). Alpenglow currently produces a pink oyster in addition to the regular variety.
The other mushroom the team at Alpenglow produce is the frankly bizarre looking lion’s mane mushroom. The globe-esque mushroom looks as if it has spines or is vaguely hairy from a distance. It wouldn’t look out of place crawling along the seabed or nestled in a hedge like an albino hedgehog. Popular in Chinese traditional medicine, they are delicious to eat cooked or raw. Under the Alpenglow brand, lion’s mane, among other mushrooms, are turned into extracts that are said to help with all kinds of things including enhancing memory, brain function, and digestion.
And the latest addition to the family of spore-bearing fungi is the shitake. Hopefully, we will see locally-grown shiitakes on menus soon.
Alpenglow mushrooms are available in Natural Grocer in Montrose among other places, and are used by several restaurants in the area.
While tinctures and extracts are a great way to utilize mushrooms, eating this is our favorite way to consume all of those vitamins and minerals, and so to close the loop on this locally-produced food, we took a box of Alpenglow’s finest to Ridgway and let Joe Ouellette from Taco Del Gnar have his way with them.
A pioneering concept when it first opened back in 2013, TDG quickly established itself as THE place to go for want of a better term hipster-style tacos in the region. Since then, a loyal fanbase has mushroomed with fans making the trip from Telluride, Ouray and Montrsoe regularly.
And if you’re new to the area or are considering visiting (or God forbid you live in the region and haven’t visited), we’ll let you find out what TDG is all about, but don’t expect Mexican food.
With Asian flavors and techniques making regular appearances on the TDG menu (and that fact he is a trained chef), Ouellette is very familiar with oyster and lion’s mane mushrooms. The oysters were treated with kid gloves, getting a quick pickle which adds a sour note and softens the texture a little, but the lion’s mane were treated a little less gently. Firm but with a structure that lends itself to being pulled apart, à la pulled pork, they were sliced and pan fried  and then brushed with a Korean-inspired bulgogi sauce before being finished on the grill which gave them a slightly charred flavor.
Placed on top of some salad leaves and topped with kimchi (a gift to Joe from his friend Dan who owns Steps Tavern beneath TDG), the pickled oyster mushrooms, fried carrot for crunch, and drizzled with a ginger miso vinaigrette, they were as good as they sound.
The Far East Fungi tacos (that’s what we are calling them anyway) were a one-off creation to showcase these mushrooms, but with a little prodding - and maybe a petition - maybe everyone the TDG team will share them with!