Small Talk with Smallhold
Jacobsen Salt Co.
Oct 13, 2023
In celebration of National Mushroom Day, we connected with our friends at Smallhold, a company on a mission to turn everyone into a Mushroom Person.
Read our conversation with Co-Founder, Andrew Carter, about how they started, cooking tips, and why their sustainable 'shrooms are the future below:
How did Smallhold come to be? Can you name the moment when you realized you needed to start this company, and what inspired you?
(AC): I have a strong belief that our society needs to innovate quickly to bring high-quality and sustainably produced foods to the masses. Our way is not the only way to grow food, but it’s one of the ways we can grow on our changing planet. I’ve been working on projects around this thesis for over 15 years and became enamored with mushrooms in the process. Not only do they lend themselves to growing indoors, they grow on waste streams, produce healthy compost, and are just so nutritious for people. The more we experimented with them, the more we went down the fungal rabbit hole. It’s hard not to become obsessed with them when you realize how much impact they can have on human and planetary health, as well as how much more there is to learn about them.
Fall is almost here. What most excites you as the seasons change? What do you find yourself cooking or eating during these cozy months?
(AC): Fall is mushroom season! Technically we grow year-round, but there is something to say about seasonal shifts in diet. The temperature change, shorter days, and return to school screams “mushrooms” for a lot of people out there. I find myself roasting more mushrooms in the fall as it gets a bit too hot to do that in my apartment over the summer.
What is something unexpected or surprising you’ve learned about mushrooms since starting Smallhold?
(AC): So many things, but I continue to be surprised by how obsessed humans are with mushrooms. The colors, mystery, flavors, diversity, it’s mind-boggling and it makes them a lot of fun to grow and feed to people.
Your mission is to turn every person into a “Mushroom Person”. Why should every person be a Mushroom Person?
(AC): Mushrooms taste good and are good for you. Additionally, they’re one of the most sustainable forms of calories on this planet, so every mushroom you eat *hopefully* replaces something else that has more of a negative impact on our planet.
Dehydrate your mushroom of choice for about 6 hours in the oven or air fryer at 125°F. You want them to be cracker-dry! Take ¼ cup of the dehydrated mushrooms and ¼ cup of kosher sea salt and grind into a powder. Then, mix in another ¼ cup of kosher sea salt by hand.
Heat a pan, add mushrooms (like oysters and lion’s mane), and cook until they start to crisp and release their juices. Add another heavy pan on top for extra pressure, then add a pinch of kosher sea salt and oil at the end for seasoning and a final crisping.
Slice trumpet mushrooms into strips (like steaks) or rounds (like scallops) and score them on both sides. Let them sit in your favorite marinade for 20-30 minutes to soak up all the flavor before pan or oven-roasting them.
Fun(gi) Recipes to Try
Chocolate Chip Cookie with Miso Shiitake Caramel Swirl (Vegan)
Vegan Scallop Alfredo
Mushroom Medley Risotto
Mushroom and Smallhold Lifecycle Comparison
Fruiting Body and Release of Spores
Spores are the “seeds'' of mushrooms. When a mushroom matures, it releases millions, sometimes billions, of tiny spores in hopes of spreading potential mushroomlings far and wide.
Andrew began growing mushrooms in a basement outside of New York City. At that point he’d spent 10 years helping people build and operate commercial lettuce and tomato greenhouses and thought it would be easy to grow mushrooms – he was wrong. He had to relearn everything, mostly emulating methods he found on YouTube and pulling experience from the greenhouse industry.
Spores Growing Into Hyphae
Once spores settle and find a cozy place to start growing into mushrooms, they develop into tiny threads called hyphae, which secrete enzymes to break down nutrients for the mushrooms.
After growing a few successful batches of trumpets, Andrew's sister asked Chef Tara Norvell if she’d be interested in our mushrooms – and she was! This initial interest showed an opportunity for Smallhold to work with restaurants throughout Brooklyn.
Hyphae Meet and Combine
Two threads connect.
Andrew and Adam joined forces in Brooklyn and started growing mushrooms in a shipping container in North Brooklyn farms in 2016, quit their jobs, and officially started Smallhold on January 1, 2017.
As more and more hyphae connect, they start to form mycelium. Mycelium is comparable to the root system of plants and spreads like a web (mycelium is known as the wood-wide web!).
In addition to their shipping container, Andrew and Adam began growing mushrooms for restaurants onsite, with amazing partners like Bunker and Mission Chinese (with Angela Dimayuga). Smallhold gained a lot of steam during the pandemic.
Primordia are immature mushrooms, also known as pins!
Andrew and Adam built our Brooklyn farm in 2020, our smallest farm, followed by our Austin farm a year later, and then our Los Angeles farm a year after that.
Fruiting Body Selection
The most promising pins begin to develop into mature mushrooms.
As these farms grew, consumption grew. Many people were getting mushrooms they had never seen before. Restaurants, grocery stores, chefs, mushroom people, curious eaters, and even kids were hopping on board.
Mushroom "fruit" has matured.
At Smallhold, we focus on quality and experience for anybody who sees our product in the grocery store. The more people that have positive experiences with mushrooms, the more people will influence their family, friends, and community to eat more mushrooms.
Fruiting Body and Release of Spores
The mushroom life cycle starts again.
Our mushrooms are now available nationwide and at every single Whole Foods across the country. As we grow, we’ll continue to build more farms and hopefully grow the mushroom community everywhere we go.