Portabella Mushrooms Sprout from Complex History Industry Chronicles
Although original brown mushrooms were consid- ered culls in the U.S., this ‘big beauty’ is now widely embraced with a broad reach.
by TAD THOMPSON
I t was August, 1985. Jim Angelucci and Don Phillips were standing on a loading dock at Phillips Mush- room Farms in Kennett Square, PA. A vendor arrived to pick up his usual order from the specialty mush- room company. What was unusual was a box of large brown open mushrooms sitting on the floor of his truck. Almost 40 years later, Angelucci recalls asking the vendor what type of mushrooms were in the box. He responded, “Portabello.” At the time, brown mushrooms that matured and opened were considered culls and sent to canneries to salvage some value. “Now they’re portabel- las,” notes Angelucci. The vendor explained that these brown Portabello mush- rooms were introduced by an Italian woman, Maria Venuti Forrest, who called them Cappeti mushrooms. Cappeti is Italian for “Small Hat.” Maria had a small local grower producing these, and she sought a grower who could expand that production. Since Phillips already operated the infra- structure to grow, pack and ship other varieties, he told the mushroom intermediary: “We can do that.” Today, Angelucci recalls that “Don Phillips always thought outside the box.” And from outside that box sprang the portabella mushroom. In 2021-22, brown mushrooms (portabella and crimini) accounted for 203 million of the total 680 million
pounds of Agaricus bisporus mushrooms (the family of button-shaped varieties) sold in the United States, accord- ing to the USDA. Later in 1985 Phillips set about producing a big, brown, meaty open mushroom that they chose to spell “porta- bella.” Phillips liked ending the word with an “a,” which carried a feminine identity. Angelucci’s encounter with portabellas was coinci- dental because he had grown brown mushrooms after his 1967-70 Naval tour of duty, which included Naval Intelligence service from Guam. In 1970 with his fiancé,
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