Creminis look just like the small all-white button mushrooms you see at the grocery store but a cremini is brown and has twice the flavor of a cultivated white mushroom. When cremini mushrooms fully mature they are called portobellos.
The peak season for mushrooms harvested in the wild is fall and winter when the weather is cool, damp and frosty, but almost all varieties of mushrooms are available year-round since they are mostly cultivated indoors.
The cremini mushroom stands about 2 inches (5 cm) tall and has a cap that is 1½ to 2 inches (2.5-5 cm) in diameter. The cremini’s cap is brown and its stem is a dusky brown. If you turn it over, the cap of the cremini will be closed.
When creminis mature their caps broaden to 4 to 6 inches (10-15 cm) across, and the caps open to expose deep-brown gills underneath. These are called portobellos.
Cremini mushrooms are the standard cultivated mushrooms in Italy and France (where they are referred to as champignons), and they were the only cultivated mushrooms in the United States until the 1920s when common white mushrooms were introduced and became popular. Because the cremini has fallen out of broad cultivation in the United States, its cost is about twice that of the common white mushroom.
While the common mushroom has a slightly musky flavor, the taste of the cremini is richer and much more earthy and nutty. That flavor intensifies as the cremini matures. The flesh of the cremini and portobello is dense and almost meaty.
Choose. Select plump, solid, firm and dry mushrooms. Avoid mushrooms that are shriveled or slippery. A fresh mushroom should smell earthy.
Serve. Creminis can be used in any recipe that calls for mushrooms. Small creminis with closed caps can be cooked whole, and they will hold their shape. They can also be served stuffed and baked. Creminis can be sliced raw onto salads. Creminis go well with beef, chicken, cream, fish and seafood, game, garlic, herbs, onions, pasta, pork, rice, and wine.
Mushrooms can be cooked in a small amount of fat over a low heat. Cook them long enough that the entire flavor is released and until the liquid has evaporated. Wipe mushrooms with a damp cloth—do not rinse them unless dirt is clinging—before cooking.
Store. Mushrooms will keep for up to a week if refrigerated after being placed in a paper bag.
Nutrition. Mushrooms are rich in potassium and a good source of riboflavin.
There is no clear explanation about where the cremini got its name. Some in Italy, say it means brown. The French reference to the cremini “champignon” comes from the word for Champagne, so perhaps the reference is to a Champagne cork which is shaped like a cremini. Cremini mushrooms (also called crimini) are often referred to as baby portobellos or baby bellas.
The botanical name for the cremini and portobello mushroom is Agaricus bisporus.