Mushrooms ‘Champignons de Paris’ are finally making a big comeback in the French capital after more than a century

The French call them “button mushrooms” yet the cultivation of the button mushroom, the most cultivated in the world, had completely died out in the French capital – until now.

After an absence of nearly a century, two “urban farmers” with green fingers in their thirties have just reintroduced the famous mushrooms, which grow Agaricus bisporus in a dark underground car park at the end of the City of Light.

French farmers revolutionized mushroom production two centuries ago by introducing into the limestone quarries of Paris a variety of “royal” mushroom that the Sun King, Louis XIV, had popularized by having it cultivated in Versailles.

They found that mushrooms grew year round if placed in an average manure-based basement, where darkness, constant temperature and humidity provided perfect conditions for their growth.

Even the gruesome tunnels of the Paris Catacombs, now a top tourist attraction, were once filled with beds of mushrooms.

However, urban expansion and especially the construction of the Parisian metro pushed winegrowers out of the capital in the early 1900s, some settling in suburban quarries and most decamping to the Pays de la Loire wine region.

Free of any geographical denomination, this meant that none of the 100,000 tonnes of button mushrooms sold in France per year was cultivated in Paris itself.

However, for the past two months, they have been pushing again under the city center, not in a quarry but in a former 2,500 square meter car park in the 19th arrondissement East, a quarter of an hour by bike from Montmartre.

“This is the first time since the 1930s that button mushrooms have been cultivated inside the city walls”, explains Jean-Noël Gertz, agricultural engineer who runs the organic “urban farm” company Cycloponics . , with its business partner who bears his name well. Théo Champagnat.

At full capacity, they aim to produce 2.5 tonnes per day.

While car use is rapidly decreasing in Paris, the couple took advantage of a municipal dynamic to make more productive and sustainable use of the increasingly disused underground car parks in the capital.

In 2017, they opened their first organic urban farm in a parking lot in a housing estate in La Chapelle, in the 18th arrondissement of Paris, formerly a forbidden zone and haunt of drug traffickers and prostitutes.

The cave, as this farm is called, has grown steadily, selling chicory, microgreens like watercress and arugula, and two types of mushrooms – shiitake and oysters – to organic grocery stores and restaurants in the area. ‘Isle. capital delivered mainly by bicycle.

“Either success is linked to the very strong demand for organic and local products, a sector which is experiencing double-digit growth. We are riding this wave, ”he said.

However, mushrooms of Paris turned out to be a more delicate challenge, Mr Gertz said. “They are fragile and more difficult to grow and you have to follow much stricter hygienic conditions for this to work,” including air filtration, sliding doors and sidewalks before entry, he said. he told the Telegraph.

“We only grow the brown hat variety because it is much richer in flavor and the white button mushroom has been genetically modified in unrecognizable ways over the past 30 years,” he said. The farm uses compost imported from Belgium.

The couple are expected to open two more such underground farms in Paris and three in Lyon, in south-eastern France.

They also have an underground farm in Bordeaux that grows button mushrooms and another in a former German bunker dating from 1876, east of Strasbourg, where they work with blind and visually impaired pickers for whom the low light is only just not a problem.

Paradoxically, despite the rebirth of button mushrooms in Paris, the fate of the other five Paris mushroom producers just outside the capital in abandoned quarries has never been darker and a major site has just closed.

“It’s not about finding customers, I sell everything I can produce,” said Shoua-moua Vang of the Alouettes in Carrières-sur-Seine, a short drive from the La Défense business district. . west of the capital.

The problem was more prosaic, he said, namely a shortage of volunteers.

“People these days don’t want to work all day in the dark like vampires. “

Mushrooms from the “Champignons de Paris” post are finally back in the French capital after more than a century of appearing on The Telegraph.

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