In Scotland’s rugged north west, nestled between Loch Etive and Loch Awe, lies the famous Inverawe Smokehouse. It’s here, in the shadow of towering Ben Cruachan, that the Campbell-Preston family have been keeping the fires of tradition burning for over forty years, to bring world-class smoked salmon to your Christmas table.
12 Makers of Christmas - Inverawe
Perfection takes time
On our most recent visit we met Patrick, who was raised here on the banks of the River Awe and eventually took on the family business in 2014, forty years after it all began. Through a constant plume of sweet-smelling smoke, he let us in on some of the traditional methods that make their smoked salmon worthy of the Royal Warrant.
The key ingredients
“The key difference with organic salmon is the welfare of the fish really. Your stocking densities are much better and the fish grow slower, so you get a much leaner flesh.” In fact, Inverawe source only hand-fed, organic salmon from farms off the coast of Argyll and Shetland. Their fish are smaller than most too, which allows the smoke to infuse every last bite evenly.
“At the moment, we’re on a 38-hour smoke. Confirmed as the longest in the world!”, he beams as we chat beside their time-blackened brick kilns. “It’s not exactly the most productive, but it does seem to lock in the flavour.”
No smoke without fire
Not only are the team at Inverawe on hand day and night to stoke the fires, they’re also one of only two smokehouses in the UK to burn whole oak logs. The result is a more delicate smoke than the conventional wood chip method, which accounts for the marathon times needed to achieve their powerful taste and signature melt-in-the-mouth texture.
The logs come exclusively from wind-felled oaks on the east coast of Scotland. Before they reach Inverawe, they’re seasoned on the ground for at least five years. This ensures the wood is hard and dry enough to burn with a constant smoke, at a relatively low temperature.
The traditional methods don’t stop at the smoking either. “The guy who chopped all this wood is a guy called Murdo. He’s a caber tossing and hammer throwing champion, and this-” Patrick points to the towering log pile behind us, “is his training ground.” And while Murdo’s axe rests, firmly embedded in a stump now, there’s something evocative (and unapologetically Scottish!) about the magic they’re working here at Inverawe.
A Christmas wish come true
“That’s all there is to it really” says Patrick, pulling off his slightly singed gloves. Carefully selected organic fish, a relentless pursuit of the perfect smoke, a pinch of patience and a respect for the old-fashioned way. It all adds up to a Christmas wish come true, as welcome on your table as it is in Buckingham Palace.
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