Button mushrooms and their forgotten Paris catacombs origins

They’re known as button mushrooms, table mushrooms, white mushrooms, common mushrooms, and sometimes cultivated mushrooms in the English-speaking world. But in France, they’re called Champignons de Paris (Paris Mushrooms). What? Why?

Champignon de Paris (Paris mushroom)

Champignon de Paris

Imagine my surprise when I first moved to France and discovered that the tiny white mushrooms I know in English as button mushrooms and in French-speaking Quebec as champignon blanc (white mushrooms) are called “Champignons de Paris” (Paris mushrooms) in France.  

I didn’t think anything of it for quite some time because so many foods I know and eat in one country are called something else in another country.

For example:

  • French fries are not called “les Frites Français”; they’re just called “les Frites” in France. And in England, they’re called chips, not fries.
  • In France, loaves of large sliced bread are sometimes labelled as “American Sandwich.”
  • Long cucumbers that are just called cucumbers in England are called English cucumbers in most of North America and concombre Anglais in French-speaking Quebec.

large sliced bread is sometimes called American sandwich bread in France

I didn’t know it at the time, but the little white button mushroom is called Paris mushroom in France for a specific reason.

Where Do Champignon de Paris Come From?

The scientific name for Champignon de Paris mushrooms is “Agaricus bisporus.”

Although it’s rare to find them growing in the wild, they are native to the grasslands and meadows of Europe and the French countryside in the spring and autumn after the rain. The temperature during this period is neither too hot nor too cold, and the humidity is high. This is why Paris mushrooms never grow in the forest.

Before they were called champignon de Paris

In France, the cultivated versions of Agaricus bisporus are called Champignons de Paris or Champignons de couche. 

  • Champignons de Paris were first cultivated in the abandoned old quarries in and around Paris.
  • Button mushrooms are also known as Champignon de couche because they are grown on layers (couches) of horse manure, which acts as a fertilizer for the cultivation. 

The Greeks may have invented this method of cultivating mushrooms on horse poop 2000 years ago in 200 BC, but they mixed ash as a substrate and cultivated mushrooms in the open air. It’s most likely that mushroom cultivation originated in the Far East (China and Japan), but they also cultivated mushrooms in the open air.

It wasn’t until much later, in the 1600s, that mushroom cultivations came to Paris, or more specifically, in the gardens of the Château de Versailles. King Louis XIV loved these white mushrooms, so his gardener, Jean de La Quintinie (1626-1688), had the idea of growing them in the King’s garden.

At the time, they were still not called Champignon de Paris and were not grown underground. The King called these wild versions “rosé des prés” (pink of the meadows) because of their interesting limestone hue. 

The Paris mushrooms are born in the Catacombs of Paris

Carrières de Saint-Denis mushroom quarry growing Paris

According to Victor Parquet, in his 1847 book titled “Traité de la culture des champignons,” a Parisian farmer named Chambry discovered a bunch of these little white mushrooms growing 10 meters underground in an old quarry near his Parisian garden around 1814.

Seeing how well they grew underground, this farmer decided to cultivate these white button mushrooms underground where the temperatures were perfect for year-round cultivation. 

Things progressed rather quickly after 1814. Other mushroom farmers wanted to duplicate Chambry’s success, so they also began to cultivate mushrooms underground in the catacombs and quarries in the southern districts of Paris. It quickly spread to other areas such as Bagneux, Montrouge and even Meudon.

By the 1880s, over 300 mushroom farmers were working in the dark abandoned underground quarries to cultivate les Champignons de Paris. They became a widely produced and distributed ingredient for French food recipes throughout France and became known as les champignons de Paris. 

Engraving from 1854 illustrating the collection of mushrooms in Montrouge. We can see a mushroom keeper descending by a parrot ladder.
Engraving from 1854 illustrating the collection of mushrooms in Montrouge. We can see a mushroom keeper descending by a parrot ladder.

New Metro construction ends most Paris mushroom cultivation

Paris France was the number one cultivator of Champignons de Paris for a while. That is until the 20th century when construction of the Paris Metro began, and mushrooms growing in underground quarries and catacombs became an obstacle for building the Paris subway system.

As a result, much of France’s button mushroom cultivation was moved to other regions of France, such as Anjou, in the town of Saumur (birthplace of Coco Chanel), where roughly ¾ of all button mushrooms produced in France come from. 

Today mushroom production in France has declined and now ranks 4th or 5th in terms of button mushroom production after the United States, China and Holland.

Despite where they come from, even if they are produced in China, they are still labelled Champignon de Paris in French grocery stores. 

The last mushroom farmers of Paris

There are very few champignonnières (mushroom farmers) who still grow mushrooms the traditional way; in underground Quarries in and around Paris. Here are a few in operation. 

  1. Champignonnière Des Carrières: Rue des Carrières, Évecquemont (78740)
  2. Champignonnière Clos du Roi: 11 Rue Pagnere, Saint-Ouen-l’Aumône (95310 )
  3. Champignonnière de la Marianne: 3 Rue Thérèse Lethias, Méry-sur-Oise (95540 )
  4. La champignonnière des Alouettes à Carrières-sur-Seine:  34 Rue des Alouettes, 78420 Carrières-sur-Seine 
  5. Champignonnière de la Marianne: 3 rue Thérèse Lethias, Méry-sur-Oise (95540)

White Button Mushrooms are the same as Cremini and Portobellos?

Did you know that the white button mushroom is the same species as cremini and portabello mushroom? They’re just different ages, colours and sizes of the same mushroom with different names and very different prices.

In other words, they’re the same type of mushrooms harvested at different points of majority.

Button mushroom- (The baby) :

champignons de paris button mushrooms

White button mushrooms (champignons de Paris) are the youngest variety of “Agaricus bisporus.” They are harvested in their young, immature form after about 30 days, but they may take as long as six months to reach this stage if grown outdoors. 

Cremini aka baby belloa (The teen) :

Cremini mushrooms

A cremini, aka creminno mushroom, is the larger version of the white baby button mushroom. They’re also marketed as” baby Bella” or “baby portobello” or “brown mushrooms.” Since they’re slightly more mature than a young button mushroom, they have a firmer texture and earthier flavour. They are usually harvested after growing for about 40 days.

Portabello Mushrooms: (The adult):

Portobello mushrooms

Portobello mushrooms are fully grown white button mushroom that’s only harvested when it reaches full maturity past the button stage. The delicious meaty caps of portabello mushrooms can reach sizes as big as 15cm (6 inches). T

Experience Delicious Paris Mushrooms

Velouté de champignons: Cream of mushroom soup

Button mushrooms are still a big part of French cuisine, and you can find them in many French recipes, including sauces, soups, side dishes, salads, stuffed or used as a stuffing ingredient. 

Here are a few French recipes that use champignons de Paris. Do you know any of these?

  1. Blanquette de vea
  2. Sole ou escalope normandes
  3. Omelette forestière
  4. Omelette aux champignons de paris
  5. Les daubes (stews)
  6. Champignons à la grecque
  7. Tarte aux champignons de Paris
  8. Crêpes aux crevettes et aux champignons
  9. Champignons farcis au fromage frais
  10. Flan aux champignons à la ricotta
  11. Risotto aux champignons de Paris
  12. Velouté de champignons aux noisettes
  13. Tartiflette aux champignons et au comté
  14. Champignons de paris crus en salade
  15. Gratin de champignons de Paris
  16. Champignons de Paris à la crème

Bon Appétit

If you’re up for the challenge, you can also grow your own Paris mushrooms or Portabello mushrooms which are easy to grow with indoor kits. Just open the box, place it in a cool, dark location and mist the already included mushroom spores regularly. Within a few weeks, your mushrooms will begin to sprout. 

Photo of Annie André: www.AnnieAndre.com

Annie André

About the author 

I’m A Bilingual North American With Thai And French Canadian Roots Who's Been Living In The South Of France For Over 10 Years. I Love Writing Weird, Wonderful, Interesting, Forgotten, And Fascinating Articles For Intellectually Curious People Amazed By France, French Culture, And World Travel.

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