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Saturday, February 21, 2015

Li-Sun Exotic Mushroom tour in the old Mittagong railway tunnel

Li-Sun Exotic Mushroom tour in an old railway tunnel at Mittagong

The Mittagong railway mushroom tunnel is unlike anything you've ever seen. Cool, damp and eerily quiet, the long disused train tunnel has been used to grow mushrooms since the 1950s. The tunnel itself stretches for 650 metres, its curved archway soaring way above our heads. Since 1987 the tunnel has been home to Li-Sun Exotic Mushrooms, established by microbiologist Dr Noel Arrold.

Entrance to the old railway tunnel at Mittagong now growing mushrooms
Our tour group at the end of the disused railway tunnel in Mittagong

Today you can take tours of the mushroom tunnel, held on public holiday long weekends. Tours take place on a Sunday as the market closures on Monday mean no mushrooms are harvested the day before. That means the chance to see a good crop of mushrooms grown in the tunnel itself, including chestnut, oyster, shiitake, shimeji, Swiss brown and wood ears. Enoki, king brown and nameko require different climatic conditions and are grown in laboratories off site.

Dr Noel Arrold, microbiologist, founder and owner of Li-Sun Exotic Mushrooms
Dr Noel Arrold, found and owner of Li-Sun Exotic Mushrooms

Dr Arrold is the founder and owner of Li-Sun Exotic Mushrooms. The name Li-Sun comes from the names of his children, but he freely admits this was deliberately engineered to sound Asian to appeal to the Asian market. A microbiologist with a PhD in mushroom cultivation from the University of Sydney, Dr Arrold is an expert in genetic breeding.

Chestnut mushrooms in the Li-Sun Exotic Mushrooms railway tunnel, Mittagong
Chestnut mushrooms

The single track railway tunnel was built in 1886 to connect Bowral to Mittagong as part of the Main South Railway Line. It runs directly beneath Mount Gibraltar, a mini mountain that stands 868 metres high and is thought to be the rim of an ancient volcano. Construction took three years to complete.

When rail traffic increased, a new double track railway tunnel was built alongside it in 1918. The abandoned railway was briefly used to store explosives during World War II but these were removed when it was realised that the tunnel was prone to flooding during periods of heavy sustained rainfall.

Enoki mushrooms in the Li-Sun Exotic Mushrooms railway tunnel, Mittagong
Enoki mushrooms in front of a photo of Jamie Oliver in the mushroom tunnel

Constant 16C temperature and high humidity levels in the tunnel mimic the same conditions as the forests where these mushrooms varieties naturally grow. It's blissfully cool in the tunnel, especially on a 40C day like the day we visit. Dr Arrold says the consistent and sheltered environment offers ideal condition for mushroom cultivation. Only in winter do they occasionally hose down the paths to increase humidity levels.

Initially starting with shiitake mushrooms, Li-Sun now grows and supplies a wide variety of mushrooms for both restaurant and domestic use. Only a few are grown outside the tunnel, including enokis that are grown in a coolroom at 6C and king browns that prefer a warmer 18C-20C.

Li-Sun Exotic Mushrooms railway tunnel, Mittagong
Garbage bags filled with sterilised eucalyptus sawdust and used to grow oyster mushrooms

The mushrooms are not grown on compost but sterilised eucalyptus sawdust that is then innoculated with mushroom spores. The black garbage bags are a clever innovation by Dr Arrold, slashed with small holes so the mushrooms emerge from these openings for easy harvesting.

Oyster mushrooms in the Li-Sun Exotic Mushrooms railway tunnel, Mittagong
Oyster mushrooms


Today Li-Sun grow 1500 kilos of mushrooms per week. That's only a modest amount compared to most other mushroom farmers who harvest an average of 20 tonnes each week.

About 70 per cent of their crop used to be bought by restaurants but Dr Arrold says this is changing significantly with individuals buying more and more of his supply through supermarkets and farmers markets. His credits this mostly to the rise of cooking shows and growing confidence by the public. While he used to export mushrooms to Japan, now all his stock is sold locally in order to keep up with demand. 

Fun fact: Australians consume the second highest amount of mushrooms per capita in the world after France. On average we eat seven kilos of funghi per year. 

Shiitake mushrooms in the Li-Sun Exotic Mushrooms railway tunnel, Mittagong
Shiitake mushrooms

Seeing these mushrooms up close and in various stages of growth was quite a magical experience. I couldn't stop taking photos. Enjoy them in peace and quiet like I did.

Shiitake mushrooms in the Li-Sun Exotic Mushrooms railway tunnel, Mittagong
Shiitake mushrooms

Pink oyster mushrooms in the Li-Sun Exotic Mushrooms railway tunnel, Mittagong
Pink oyster mushrooms

Golden oyster mushrooms in the Li-Sun Exotic Mushrooms railway tunnel, Mittagong
Golden oyster mushrooms

King oyster mushrooms in the Li-Sun Exotic Mushrooms railway tunnel, Mittagong
King oyster mushrooms

Chestnut mushrooms in the Li-Sun Exotic Mushrooms railway tunnel, Mittagong
Chestnut mushrooms

Shiitake mushrooms in the Li-Sun Exotic Mushrooms railway tunnel, Mittagong
Shiitake mushrooms

Chestnut mushrooms in the Li-Sun Exotic Mushrooms railway tunnel, Mittagong
Chestnut mushrooms

Walking through the Li-Sun Exotic Mushrooms railway tunnel, Mittagong
Walking through the Li-Sun Exotic Mushrooms railway tunnel, Mittagong

Chestnut mushrooms in the Li-Sun Exotic Mushrooms railway tunnel, Mittagong
Chestnut mushrooms

Chestnut mushrooms in the Li-Sun Exotic Mushrooms railway tunnel, Mittagong
Chestnut mushrooms

Wood ear mushrooms in the Li-Sun Exotic Mushrooms railway tunnel, Mittagong
Wood ear mushrooms (also known as black fungus or cloud ear mushrooms)

Shiitake mushrooms in the Li-Sun Exotic Mushrooms railway tunnel, Mittagong
Shiitake mushrooms

Shiitake mushrooms in the Li-Sun Exotic Mushrooms railway tunnel, Mittagong
Shiitake mushrooms

Shiitake mushrooms in the Li-Sun Exotic Mushrooms railway tunnel, Mittagong
Shiitake mushrooms

Shiitake mushrooms in the Li-Sun Exotic Mushrooms railway tunnel, Mittagong
Shiitake mushrooms

Shiitake mushrooms in the Li-Sun Exotic Mushrooms railway tunnel, Mittagong
Shiitake mushrooms

Shiitake mushrooms in the Li-Sun Exotic Mushrooms railway tunnel, Mittagong
Shiitake mushrooms

Shiitake mushrooms in the Li-Sun Exotic Mushrooms railway tunnel, Mittagong
Shiitake mushrooms

Shiitake mushrooms in the Li-Sun Exotic Mushrooms railway tunnel, Mittagong
Shiitake mushrooms

Shiitake mushrooms in the Li-Sun Exotic Mushrooms railway tunnel, Mittagong
Shiitake mushrooms

Golden oyster mushrooms in the Li-Sun Exotic Mushrooms railway tunnel, Mittagong
Golden oyster mushrooms

Pink oyster mushrooms in the Li-Sun Exotic Mushrooms railway tunnel, Mittagong
Pink oyster mushrooms

Shimeji mushrooms in the Li-Sun Exotic Mushrooms railway tunnel, Mittagong
Shimeji mushrooms

Shiitake mushrooms in the Li-Sun Exotic Mushrooms railway tunnel, Mittagong
Shiitake mushrooms

Shiitake mushrooms in the Li-Sun Exotic Mushrooms railway tunnel, Mittagong
Shiitake mushrooms

Shiitake mushrooms in the Li-Sun Exotic Mushrooms railway tunnel, Mittagong
Shiitake mushrooms

Shiitake mushrooms in the Li-Sun Exotic Mushrooms railway tunnel, Mittagong
Shiitake mushrooms

Baby shiitake mushrooms in the Li-Sun Exotic Mushrooms railway tunnel, Mittagong
Baby shiitake mushrooms

Shiitake mushrooms in the Li-Sun Exotic Mushrooms railway tunnel, Mittagong
Shiitake mushrooms

Chestnut mushrooms in the Li-Sun Exotic Mushrooms railway tunnel, Mittagong
Chestnut mushrooms

Chestnut mushrooms in the Li-Sun Exotic Mushrooms railway tunnel, Mittagong
Chestnut mushrooms

Li-Sun Exotic Mushrooms railway tunnel, Mittagong



The Li-Sun Exotic Mushroom tunnel tour costs $35 per person and includes a guided tour with Dr Noel Arrold, coach transfer to the tunnel from a nearby carpark (not Dr Arrold's laboratory) and a punnet of exotic mushrooms. The tour takes about 60-70 minutes.

Remaining tour dates for 2015 are
Sunday 5 April
Sunday 7 June
Sunday 4 October

To book a tour, contact the Highlands Foodie Group
Tel: +61 (02) 4871 2524
Email: info@highlandsfoodiegroup.com.au


Grab Your Fork attended this tour anonymously as a paying attendee.


Related Grab Your Fork posts:
Bowral - Biota Dining
Moss Vale - Bernie's Diner

20 comments - Add some comment love

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posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 2/21/2015 11:48:00 pm


20 Comments:

  • At 2/21/2015 11:55 pm, Anonymous Alex said…

    What a treat. I'd love to visit the place.

     
  • At 2/22/2015 9:36 am, Anonymous Martine @ Chompchomp said…

    Wow! I was initially thinking this place is waaay too cool to be in Australia....but then you taught me a few things. One this awesome mushroom nursery is here in Aus, but even more so we are champion mushroom eaters!. I am definitely one of those, we eat them nearly every day. Awesome post.

     
  • At 2/22/2015 6:03 pm, Blogger Phuoc'n Delicious said…

    Science!! This is so awesome, I never knew this place existed.

     
  • At 2/22/2015 7:10 pm, Anonymous Padaek said…

    Been missing your posts and this is a fantastic one to return to. What a magical place to visit and such an informative post. Thanks for sharing the experience. Before, I did think the name had Asian influence. We love mushrooms - they're such a tasty and fascinating food. The colours and types they come in is quite incredible! I enjoy them all but two of my all time favs are enoki and wood ear. Would love to visit this place one day. Now I know how to organise it. Love the photos. Such great/mysterious lighting to work with. Best wishes! :)

     
  • At 2/22/2015 9:42 pm, Anonymous john | heneedsfood said…

    I would have gone mad taking photos in there. Kinda like you did! Such a beautiful setting for the humble 'shroom. I bet it smelled great in there!

     
  • At 2/23/2015 9:51 am, Anonymous Bianca@forfoodssake said…

    How gorgeous!! It's so interesting to see the 'behind the scenes'. The whole experience really remind's me of a trip to the Jenolan Caves, very ethereal.

     
  • At 2/23/2015 10:02 am, Anonymous Maureen | Orgasmic Chef said…

    I'd love to see this tunnel with Dr. Arnold - what a fab experience! I had no idea we Aussies ate so many mushrooms. We love them.

     
  • At 2/23/2015 10:40 am, Blogger Ramen Raff said…

    OMG this truly looks magical! All the mushrooms looks so pretty esp the pink oyster and the stages of shiitake!

     
  • At 2/23/2015 12:10 pm, Anonymous crunchytiger said…

    HOW COOL! I never knew this existed. What a great use for a disused space.

     
  • At 2/23/2015 4:38 pm, Blogger Jacq said…

    what a cool place! The photos of the mushrooms growing are strangely beautiful.

     
  • At 2/23/2015 8:43 pm, Anonymous Hotly Spiced said…

    I've been to Mittagong a number of times but I didn't know about this mushroom business. It's so wonderful that the mushroom 'farm' didn't have to be purpose built but instead they've found something no longer used that's perfect for its purposes xx

     
  • At 2/23/2015 9:42 pm, Anonymous Racy_staci said…

    Great photos. Fascinating tour. Can't believe only 30-40 years ago we were not eating button mushrooms fresh and they sent straight to the cannery

     
  • At 2/23/2015 10:51 pm, Anonymous Tania@ MyKitchen Stories said…

    Oh god Helen these are incredible photos and as you say magical. I knew of this place but have never seen the whole tunnel nor have I seen photos as beautiful as this ( of a mushroom)

     
  • At 2/24/2015 9:27 am, Anonymous Tina@foodboozeshoes said…

    Apparently I can just look at mushroom pics all day... What a great experience!

     
  • At 2/24/2015 9:51 am, Blogger Simplicity by Sarah said…

    Great snaps Helen! I never knew this place existing - so cool!!

     
  • At 2/24/2015 2:48 pm, Anonymous Amanda @lambsearsandhoney said…

    Fascinating story and drop-dead gorgeous photos, Helen. What an amazing experience!

     
  • At 2/24/2015 4:12 pm, Blogger Queen of Bad Timing said…

    Wow! This is amazing, I can only imagine how incredible it would be to see such a diverse range of mushrooms growing. Gorgeous!

     
  • At 2/25/2015 5:52 am, Anonymous Napoli Restaurant Alert said…

    Amazing - awesome pics!

     
  • At 3/03/2015 9:02 pm, Blogger Sarah said…

    Wow! Such gorgeous photos! It looks like a surreal and incredible experience!

     
  • At 3/07/2015 12:44 am, Anonymous sara | Belly Rumbles said…

    I have been wanting to do this tour for ages. They have done amazing things.

     

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