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Collaborative effort boosts new mushroom sauce

In July 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic worsened his financial woes, Sam Peachey, an Amish farmer in Ovid, reached out to one of his regular customers, entrepreneur Mark Lin who regularly bought chicken, eggs and produce from him. Peachey was interested in growing mushrooms and wanted Lin’s help.

The conversation inspired a partnership between Peachey, Lin and Lin’s friend Peter Chang, a Chinese chef who won the James Beard Award in 2016 for best chef in the mid-Atlantic region and owns 14 restaurants.

As their plans took shape, Lin and Peachey sought help from Cornell Cooperative Extension. With Cornell’s help, Peachey found financial stability growing shiitake mushrooms, while Lin and Chang launched a business featuring a mushroom sauce made from Peachey’s shiitakes.

With staff from CCE helping Peachey with best management practices for growing shiitakes and developing a plan for food safety, and Cornell AgriTech professionals advising Lin and Chang on how to get their sauce to market, the sauce has now made its way to the shelves of three Taste NY stores run by CCE around the state, with applications in for more.

Following his faith’s traditions, Peachey faced unique challenges that might otherwise have been solved by technology such as thermostats and climate controls. In July 2021, a rise in heat caused an entire greenhouse of mushrooms — thousands of pounds of fungi — to bloom at once. The excess supply presented a new challenge since shiitakes remain fresh only a few weeks at most.

When Chang learned of the excess shiitake crop, he didn’t want Peachey to lose revenue, and he and Lin agreed to absorb the losses. Chang and Lin had already started a business, Amish Agriculture, Inc., which aimed to help distribute Amish produce, meat and eggs. They added mushrooms to their product line.
Chang came up with the idea of creating a sauce that could be made from extra shiitakes, including edible but blemished mushrooms that didn’t meet store standards. So, he developed a sauce made mostly from finely diced shiitakes, chili oil to bring out the flavor and dried shrimp and scallops. Chang gradually introduced the sauce in his restaurants. He ultimately created six versions of mushroom sauce, including one with beef and another with seafood.

After the success in the restaurants, Lin and Chang decided to try to sell the Amish Agriculture mushroom sauce in stores. For guidance, they turned to Bruno Xavier, associate director of the Cornell Food Venture Center at Cornell AgriTech in Geneva. The center helps about 500 food entrepreneurs a year commercialize their products, assisting with lab analysis, regulatory compliance, nutritional analysis and packaging.

“We’re very lucky and happy to get help from Cornell,” Chang said, “because from the perspective of food safety, we are not very knowledgeable and we need support.”

The Food Venture Center staff tested the samples, evaluated ingredients, made it possible for Lin and Chang to shorten the time it takes to make the sauce and helped lower the cost of making products safe and shelf-stable without losing nutritional value and taste.

“There’s a lot of learning that goes into that, even for an experienced chef like Peter,” Xavier said. “It’s one thing to serve the food in your restaurant, and it’s going to be immediately consumed. But if you are going to put that in a jar, and ship it all over the country, you have completely different concerns and parameters that you have to meet.”

The first jars of Amish Agriculture shiitake mushroom sauce were filled in April 2023. CCE’s Judy Wright helped Lin apply to sell the sauce at Taste NY Welcome Center stores in Broome County and Auburn. The sauce will soon be available for sale online.

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