What we know as button mushrooms and/or cremini mushrooms in the States have a very different moniker in French.
These little fungi, be they white or brown, are called “Paris mushrooms” in France. And while I’ve been aware of this for a long time – since at least my Weight Watchers translation days back in 2010, if not longer – I didn’t quite understand why that was until recently, when I had the opportunity to delve into their history for a new piece that recently ran in Atlas Obscura.
Spoiler alert: while Paris mushrooms are originally from the city, thus their name, they are no longer produced here. In fact, most Paris mushrooms are grown in factory settings and imported from China.
I know that mushrooms are a divisive topic, but I’m one of the people who actually likes them – I’ll even buy factory farmed button mushrooms from time to time. Or I used to, that is, until I sampled the versions that are still grown artisanally, in underground quarries.
Once you’ve had Catacomb mushrooms, it’s hard to go back to bland styrofoam.
Image care of Angel Moioli
While there are no mushroom growers left in Paris proper, there are a few in the surrounding area who have taken over limestone quarries, dug centuries ago to build the city of Paris and the Loire Valley Renaissance chateaux, and turned them into veritable mushroom forests. They swear by the limestone in these quarries for the taste and texture they seek, and frankly, I have to agree.
I get my mushrooms every Saturday from Bruno Zamblera, one of the five remaining growers in the quarries around Paris. He doesn’t sell them in supermarkets or even in weekly farmer’s markets: just via the ruche. In fact, that’s how most of these mushroom growers operate: they produce such small yields that it’s only worth their while to sell to either the ruche community, via CSAs, or to places like Terroirs d’avenir, produce purveyor of many of Paris’ best chefs (and home cooks).
If you want to sample these mushrooms, the time is now: we’re currently at the peak of Paris mushroom season, so you’ll find these little beauties on many Parisian restaurant menus – and the recent move towards a better understanding and appreciation of terroir in the capital means that for the most part, when you see Paris mushrooms on a menu, they’re going to be Catacomb mushrooms.
Here’s a list of restaurants (that I know of!) that are using these seasonal treats on their menus. If you hear of any more, please feel free to let me know in the comments below!