Saturday, June 23, 2012

Champignons on French Menus. The Champignon de Paris, the Button Mushroom in French Cuisine. The Mushrooms of France I.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman
Updated April 2018
Champignons de Paris,  button  mushrooms,
Photograph by Freeddigital  
The Champignon de Paris, the button mushroom,
and its cultivation changed the world’s menus.

The first mushroom to be successfully cultivated was a relative of today's button mushroom. However, that was in the 17th century and commercial production of cultivated mushrooms of any kind would still have to wait for three hundred years.  

In the early 20th century came the Champignon de Paris, the button mushroom. Then, following on the button mushroom's commercial success the search was on. How to cultivate other mushrooms came with serious investments.  Today we may choose from over fifteen types of cultivated mushrooms.  Cultivated mushrooms with their ability to intensify tastes, and their wide variety of textures, are now available all year round
Champignon de Paris, the button mushroom;
 Probably at its best on the grill.
Photograph courtesy of cinnachick
The Button mushroom is the mushroom
that all the growers want you to buy.
The button mushroom brings you four or more or mushrooms in different sizes, with different names, different prices, different colors, and close to ten different names. Despite all these differences, the white button mushroom is exactly the same mushroom as the brown button mushroom.  The same as the medium sized Cremini, also called the Portabellini and then the largest of them all Portabella or Portabello.  The only difference between all these mushrooms is their degree of maturity and color.The Champignon de Paris, and its descendants are now right up there along with Nouveau Beaujolais, Pink Champagne and a number of other food products when it comes to marketing.
The Cremini, Portabellini, and the Portabella or Portobello
are part of the button mushroom family.
The relatively expensive Portabella may grace some impressive tables, but that is thanks to skillful marketing; not a long trek in the woods after the rain.  The little button mushroom with its nearly closed cap grows and grows and grows and eventually becomes the Portabella. Despite the sales hype these mushrooms are healthy and tasty, and our choices and taste buds will not suffer if we know their history. That,  my best beloved, is how the white champignon de Paris, the brown champignon de Paris, the cremini, the Italian brown, portabellini, the portabella and a few other brothers and sisters developed. It all began in Paris.
The champignon de Paris, the button mushroom ready for market.
  Photograph courtesy of Mike Licht
The Champignon de Paris on French menus:
Noix de Ris de Veau  Croustillante aux Ecrevisses, Navets Fanes Farcis d'une Crème de Persil, et Champignons de Paris.  Veal sweetbreads crisply cooked with freshwater crayfish along with turnip leaves stuffed with a cream of parsley sauce and button mushrooms.  
Cuisse de Grenouilles à l’Estragon, Tombée de Baby Épinard et Champignons de Paris – Frog’s legs cooked in tarragon, the herb, served together with baby spinach leaves and button mushrooms.
The Cremini.
Photograph courtesy of nsdis
Champignons Cremini avec Poivrons Rôtis, Fromage de Chèvre et Oignons  Aigres-Doux sur Pain au Levain Grillé avec Sirop de Balsamique.  – Cremini mushrooms served with roasted sweet peppers, goat’s cheese, and sweet and sour onions served on grilled unleavened bread with syrup of balsamic vinegar. Balsamic syrup depends very much on the chef; at its simplest the syrup is balsamic vinegar and sugar cooked together until it thickens.  From those beginnings, I have enjoyed a balsamic syrup where the chef used honey and water and flavored the syrup with a vanilla bean.  Ask the server for more information on the balsamic syrup as it can make this delicious menu listing a star.
For more about the different types of French bread see the post:
A stuffed portabello mushroom.
Steak de Palette Grillé et Tranché sur Pain à l'Ail avec Champignons  Cremini.  The palette is called a chuck steak in North America and the UK.  Here the steak is served on garlic toast with cremini mushrooms. The palette is an inexpensive cut. In North American and the UK, this cut, in its various forms is cut from the shoulder. It is a cut that is most often seen as a roast or pot roast.  In France butchers and chefs know there are particular parts of the chuck that makes an excellent steak. Like the onglet and bavette, the cut used for France’s steak frites,  the palette when correctly prepared makes a tasty and inexpensive steak.   For more about ordering as steak in France cooked the way you like it see the post:  Ordering a Steak in France, Cooked the Way You Like it.
Médaillons de Bœuf et Champignons Portobello Sautés au Miel – Round cuts of steak  often cut from an entrecote.  A médaillon indicates the shape of the cut so when I see this on a menu I ask for more information; here the steak is served with Portabello mushrooms lightly fried in honey.
The Portabella
Photographs courtesy of artizone.
Raviolesaux Champignons Portobello, 
Roquette et Huile de Truffe –Ravioli stuffed with Portabello mushrooms served with leaves of rocket and flavored with truffle oil.
The Portabella at work.
The portabella served with asparagus and barbecued ribs
Photograph courtesy of tpoling.
The development of the Button Mushroom
When, at the end of the 19th century, it became apparent that the cultivation of mushrooms was going to be a success story of epic proportions. Large temperature-controlled and permanently covered growing centers were required.
The catacombs of Paris and the button mushrooms.
The garden shed may have been acceptable for trials, but that was in the days before air-conditioning and abundant electricity.  Then the  Champignons de Paris were first commercially grown in old limestone quarry tunnels. Under Paris are tens if not hundreds of miles of old limestone quarries. These quarries were dug over hundreds of years for building material required for the city that was growing above.  In the 18th century, 50% of these old tunnels were reopened as health-hazard-free catacombs for the overflowing Paris cemeteries. Over 6,000,000 million of Paris’s departed souls were reburied in these tunnels.
Rent Free growiing centers for the button mushroom.
Then in the 20th century the tunnels that had not been made into catacombs became rent-free growing centers for button mushrooms.  In the beginning, the horses that drew the Parisians carriages supplied the food for the hungry mushrooms! Today button mushrooms are no longer grown in the tunnels under Paris, but rather in purpose-built climate controlled hothouses all over the world.  And, of course, the food the mushrooms now receive is now 100% vegetable based;  however, I sometimes wonder if that is just because there are not enough horses?     

Inside a button mushroom factory.
  Photograph courtesy of pennstatenews
  Visiting the Paris Catacombs
While there are no longer any mushroom factories under Paris you may visit Paris’s catacombs, except on Mondays, and for opening times see the English Language website:

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  1. I read your blog.I thought it was great.. Hope you have a great day. God bless.

  2. Hi Leslie,

    Thanks for your comments. I am writing a new post on one oyster mushrooms in France. It should be posted within one month.