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Issue 85 - Meet the Producer: Inverawe Smoke House

Scotland Magazine Issue 85
February 2016

 

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Meet the Producer: Inverawe Smoke House

Michael Morris gets a taste for smoked fish

Scotland is well known for producing some of the world’s most sought after foodstuffs; its varied regional landscapes and waters are a veritable larder that brings joy to kitchens across the globe. However, as with many things, the steady march of industry has not left even Scotland’s agricultural and culinary production methods entirely untouched. This prevailing tendency toward a ‘faster, bigger, cheaper’ approach makes it all the more pleasing when one discovers a business which still does things ‘the old fashioned way’.

Thankfully, this can most certainly be said about the Inverawe Smokehouse, where the mantra from the very beginning has been: “Start with the best, compromise nothing and success will follow.” Founded in 1974 as Lorne Fisheries by Robert and Rosie Campbell-Preston, Inverawe is located at the foot of Ben Cruachan, just over 80 miles north-west of Glasgow. Nestled in rich woodland filled with glorious Beech trees, the smokery began as an offshoot from the original Trout farming business and enjoyed early success supplying the catering industry.

When Rosie later announced that she planned to launch a mail order service, the whole family combined address books to help get things started. From those initial 400 names, Inverawe’s popularity snowballed and their products gained popularity with customers as far afield as South Africa and Asia. Fast-forward to 2001, when Inverawe was awarded a Royal Warrant by HM the Queen, an accolade that set a precedent for the success which continued throughout the following years. In 2006, their Organic Smoked Salmon was named ‘Supreme Champion’ at the International Food Exhibition, making it clear to all that something very special was going on in this peaceful corner of Argyll.

So what’s the secret to Inverawe’s success? Robert and Rosie attribute much of it to their decision to avoid modern production methods and machinery, both of which characterise a large proportion of readily available smoked fish today. Instead, Inverawe exclusively practices a traditional means of smoking, utilising old-style brick smoke boxes and Oak log fires which burn 24 hours per day.

The process begins with the brining of the fish, during which various combinations of herbs and seasoning are used depending on the desired end flavour and colour. Using the correct concentration of salt is paramount during this first stage, as it will determine not only the taste of the final product, but also, by virtue of its role in drawing out moisture during the smoking process, the texture.

Next, it’s on to the smoke boxes, where the fish will remain for between 24 and 48 hours; the smoky air gradually drying it and imparting the distinct, faintly fruity flavour characteristic of Inverawe’s produce. According to Robert and his team, each smoke box has different characteristics, while subtle changes in wind; temperature and humidity also have an affect on the process. This means there’s no set rule dictating when exactly the fish will be ready to emerge; instead, it is down to the team’s keen eyes to spot when each fish is perfectly smoked. This labour intensive method requires expertise gained only by years of experience, which thankfully the Inverawe team have in spades.

Both ‘cold’ and ‘hot’ smoking is practiced at Inverawe, each style imparting distinct characteristics that suit different produce. As it happens, many of Inverawe’s products in fact undergo both treatments: a cold smoke (never above 30 degrees Celsius or 86 Fahrenheit) overnight before a session in the hot smoke box the following morning. While the hot smoke box is located directly above the fire, the cold smoke box is instead found in an adjacent area, separated by a partition, with smoke intake regulated by a series of vents.

However, Robert and Rosie make it clear that all of this care and effort would be entirely fruitless if it weren’t for the exceptional quality of the fish provided by their suppliers. Farmed sustainably in strong tidal flows off the coast of both Argyll and Shetland, Inverawe works with only those farms that are dedicated to fish welfare. This means a low-density environment, a commitment to the non-use of preventative antibiotics and the use of low-fat feed from sustainable sources; criteria which are paramount to not only delivering an ethical product, but a delicious one too. Fish raised in this way tend to be smaller, leaner and less fatty in character, which makes them more suited to the slow smoking method used at Inverawe.
Incredibly, traditionally smoked fish and the experts who make it aren’t all that can be found at Inverawe. The smokery itself now features an exhibition area, shop and tearoom; while the wider country park offers countless walks and activities. For those of you who fancy taking up the art of angling, there is a fishing school and three regularly stocked Trout lochs that will satisfy both beginners and those with more experience. If that’s not enough, visitors may also fish for Salmon at two lower tidal beats of the River Awe – chest waders are a must!

Robert and Rosie have certainly come a long way since they started out smoking fish in their back garden, but one suspects that by staying true to their mantra, there will be lots more to come from Inverawe.