One of the real joys of holidaying in Scotland is getting to discover local producers and cook with their produce. This year whilst in Gairloch I had the delights of fresh picked local chanterelles from Poolewe weekly market and squat lobsters from Dry Island. However it was the chance discovery of Isle of Ewe Smokehouse on the last day that was the real highlight. Getting to meet Paula and see her passion and energy for the food that her and Alistair are producing was a joy, and the impromptu tour of the smokehouse that has yielded multiple Great Taste Awards stars was wonderful. The purity of flavour of everything they are producing was quite outstanding and I’m delighted they agreed to a short interview to introduce Isle of Ewe Smokehouse.
When did you start the smoking business and what inspired you to set up in Aultbea?
We had both met whilst working on superyachts as crew in the Med, Alistair had previously worked for ten years for two of the biggest smokehouses on the West Coast, Inverawe & Loch Fyne Smokehouse, so he had plenty of smoking expertise.
In 2005/6 we settled back in Edinburgh, me working freelance cooking & Alistair teaching sailing and yacht deliveries. We also worked at Fenton Barns Farmshop & Café, East Lothian, Alistair in the Farm shop and myself cooking in the café. This fuelled our love of great food especially Scottish Artisan producers. All the time we were looking for a business that we could run together somewhere in Scotland.
I was cooking on a freelance job for a stalking party at the Letterewe Estate in Wester Ross and the local smokehouse, Sleepy Hollow Smokehouse based in Aultbea, supplied the smoked salmon. It was sublime and we were both completely blown away by the pureness of the flavour; great salmon and robust smokiness. I had never tasted fish like this before….it was love at first bite! During those few days there together the whole majesty of the landscape: mountains and glens, sea and loch captured our hearts.
Haunted by the evocative north west highlands life in Edinburgh was not where we wanted to be. We found out that the owners of the smokehouse Andrew & Jenny Wiseman wanted to sell Sleepy Hollow Smokehouse, and in March 2007 we bought it, smoking our fish in an old croft house that Andrew had converted. He owned the building so we rented it from him until we could find a suitable property to buy that would give us a building for the smokehouse and somewhere to live.
The following August we bought our crofters cottage on the shore of Loch Ewe with enough land attached to build a purpose built smokehouse to our specifications, moving into these premises in January 2010. In July 2011 we rebranded and changed our name to Isle of Ewe Smokehouse, the isle sits out in the middle of the loch, we can almost touch it, this has given us more provenance to our brand and is truly us.
With such a wide range of products do you work with people you know to source the raw materials or was it very much trying out suppliers until you found ones you liked?
We source our raw materials from producers and suppliers with the same kinds of ethos and provenance that we give to our products with all our fish being Scottish and sustainable. Our fresh salmon is from a sustainable source, Scottish Seafarms is an independent Scottish company, they have freedom food & label rouge accreditation and provide us with stunning fresh Scottish salmon. All our scallops are hand dived from Keltic Seafare and hail from Shetland. With the shop alongside the smokehouse we have found suppliers of stunning produce to sell alongside what we make here, it’s all very addictive as Scotland has such a massive selection of artisan food producers such as Great Glen Charcuterie, Highland Fine Cheeses, Culliesse, and Mr Trotters.
Smoked hake is a really unique (and wonderful!) product, but what possessed you to start smoking hake?
We both loved fresh hake and were glad to see it back on the sustainable list, so thought it would be just dandy smoked. Also we tried rock turbot, commonly known as catfish which was great as well but a little more boney.
In the beginning did you go through many brining recipes before coming up with the rum, sugar and salt which you use?
No, we were so aware of not changing the way that the smoked salmon tastes. We have kept strictly to the same way that Andrew had always smoked his fish. Dark Rum and Dark Brown Sugar. If it ain’t broke…
What is your favourite product which you make and do you have a favourite meal/recipe to use it in?
We love it all, but especially hot smoked hand dived scallops, firstly open a chilled bottle of favourite prosecco, drink preferably with your beloved whilst making a risotto bianco and having a good blether. At the last minute add in a good plug of prosecco and once off the heat stir in sliced smoked scallops! Finish with fresh lovage, fresh thyme or wild mushrooms.
What does the future hold for Isle of Ewe Smokehouse?
Sell more fish from our new shiny office our Smoked Salmon HQ….. expansion of our small but perfectly formed deli & discover more amazing products to stock……. develop our range of smoked foods……enjoy our children……..run on the beach and dance like nobody’s watching!
All images used courtesy of Isle of Ewe Smokehouse