Eyewitness account of portabella’s beginning Stephan salutes Jim Angelucci as the historical resource on portabellas. As previously noted, Angelucci is the man who went to work with brothers Don and Marshall Phillips to produce commercial portabella volumes. The market for the big brown mushroom grew substan - tially in the initial 1985-87 timeframe. Portabellas’ launch platform was the foodservice industry, and because por - tabellas can be a meat substitute, they were well received by sophisticated East Coast chefs. These chefs’ creativity soon led to consumer familiarity and subsequent retail distribution. Culinary community interest was also ignited because portabellas are flavorful when mature. Angelucci explains that a maturing mushroom loses water, which gives it an intense flavor. Yet, some people were a tough sell. Around 1986, when Phillips had a meeting with their bank’s relationship manager, he offered her mushrooms, as he customarily would do with visitors. When Angelucci suggested she take portabellas, she declined, explaining: “I’m a vegetarian and they taste too much like meat.” She instead chose to take Shiitakes.
by a mushroom marketer several years ago, the name has never been standardized. Some growers insist on “porta- bella”; others hedge their bets. ‘Our invoices spell it with o’s, our boxes with a’s,’ says Kevin Donovan, (who not so long ago retired as Phillips Mushroom’s sales manag- er). Portobella and portabello have also been spotted on menus, but portobello (“beautiful port” in Italian) makes the most linguistic sense. By any name, these massive mushrooms are giving meat a run for its money.” No one seems to know the commercial origins of the edible fungus Agaricus bisporus. Food history website The Kitchen Project reports the earliest description of the commercial cultivation of Agaricus bisporus was made by French botanist Joseph Pitton de Tournefort in 1707. The Agaricus bisporus species can vary greatly in ap - pearance. Michael Stephan, director of sales for Monterey Mushrooms, Inc., puts it simply: “Brown mushrooms were not bred to be brown. That’s simply their nature. White mushrooms and portabellas are both Agaricus bisporus. Physiologically they are the same mushroom.” Further complications in definition come with the fungi’s maturity. Lindsey Occhipinti, the marketing man - ager for Monterey Mushrooms, based in Watsonville, CA, explains that the brown Agaricus bisporus grows much bigger and meatier as they mature and drop their spores. “They can be merchandised sliced, and they’re easy to slice because they’re so meaty,” she says. But Occhipinti cautions portabella shelf life is better if they’re not sliced for display.
Monterey Mushrooms enters the portabella market
From her office at Monterey Mushrooms’ headquarters, Occhipinti notes that Monterey introduced the portabella mushroom in 1990. Thus, between Phillips and Monterey,
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