IT WAS a hobby that grew into a fully-fledged business.
A husband-and-wife team who started growing mushrooms at home because they couldn't buy good ones anywhere have scooped one of the top awards of the Irish Food Writers' Guild.
Rose Oyster, Lion's Mane Pom Pom and Velvet Pioppino are among the exotic varieties of mushrooms being produced by Lucy Creegan and Mark Cribben of Ballyhoura Mountain Mushrooms in Co Cork.
Cork cemented its reputation as the food capital of Ireland by scooping six out of the seven guild awards yesterday.
Mr Cribben said that their business started after his wife Lucy came to Cork to do her doctorate in microbiology, but found she couldn't buy good mushrooms anywhere and started growing them at home.
The couple now supply markets and restaurants, from Dublin's Chapter One to Cork's Cafe Paradiso, with wild and speciality mushrooms, as well as making a range of mushroom soups, pates, oils and ketchups.
Mr Cribben, who is a food scientist, said that huge work went into "mimicking nature" to produce hugely varied types of mushrooms. "It's more a dark art than a science really; different mushrooms need different woods to grow in, different CO2 levels, different amounts of light and they then produce completely unique flavours and textures," he said.
Heritage Irish Potato Collection, meanwhile, won an award for its collection of nearly 200 varieties of traditional Irish potatoes, including the Lumper famine variety and the Irish Apple, dating back to 1768.
Horticulturalists Dermot Carey and David Langford have been growing these heritage potatoes since the 1970s.
The guild awards for outstanding food products and companies are nominated and voted on by some of the country's top food writers and critics, including Darina and Rachel Allen, Georgina Campbell and Biddy White-Lennon.
Other winners included Irish Atlantic Sea Salt in Lickbarrahan, Co Cork; Stonewell Cider from Kinsale in Co Cork; Coolea Flavoured Matured Farmhouse Cheese from Macroom in Co Cork; and Responsible Irish Fish from Castletownbere, Co Cork.
Ballymaloe's Myrtle Allen won a lifetime achievement award.