Lowcountry monks move on from mushrooms
Bygone ingredient still being namechecked on local menus
Up until a month or so ago, Mepkin Abbey mushrooms were listed on menus all over the Charleston area.
Guests at The Ocean Room at Kiawah Island Golf Resort could order them as a sauteed accompaniment to their porterhouse steaks. Halls offered them to catering clients as the starring ingredient in a localized cassoulet. In October 2021, Charleston Harbor Fish House unveiled its “new pork chop entrée featuring Mepkin Abbey mushrooms and Carolina gold rice.”
Trouble was, the South Carolina monastery hasn’t sold mushrooms to restaurants since the start of the pandemic, which forced a drastic revision of the monks’ longstanding business plan.
While the Trappist monastery still grows a small quantity of oyster mushrooms to dry for online sale, with a few pounds set aside and packaged for the nearby Piggly Wiggly, Mepkin Abbey now derives most of its revenue from timber and a columbarium for the permanent storage of cremated remains. “Changes had to be made, so we made changes,” explains Father Joe Tedesco, who’s served as the community’s leader since 2018.
Representatives of the restaurants and catering companies which continued to tout Mepkin Abbey mushrooms, widely considered the exemplar of Lowcountry umami, say they didn’t intend to mislead customers.
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