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Friday, August 11, 2017

July 31, 2017 - The Campbells and Co Story - A Scottish Smoked Salmon Tale

Slow Living Radio is delighted to welcome two guests from Scotland, Ross Hastings and Iain Murdoch Brown, who share with us the wonderful story of the creation of Campbells and Co Smokehouse, producing sublime Smoked Salmon.  Sally recently visiting the smokehouse and here is her story:

Scene 1 - You walk into a stylish Scottish bar, take a seat and order a Hendricks Gin…. on the rocks, and maybe some mixed nuts to nibble on.  With dignified aplomb, the bartender responds, “Ah, allow me to bring you the most perfect pairing.”  Feeling adventurous, you accept. 

The gin arrives, perched on small tray. Alongside, proudly sits a line of succulent and intensely pink wedges of salmon with a light dusting of herbs. Is it raw, smoked, or sashimi you wonder?  You sip, and drop a piece into your mouth while you can still feel the cleansing freshness of the gin on your palate. It’s sweet, juicy richness fills your senses.  On your second sip, you realize something on a deeper level is happening as the salmon underscores delicate nuances of the gin, bringing it to life. The answer… lightly smoked salmon brushed with Hendricks Gin and dusted with its botanicals before smoking. Voila!  A match made in heaven.  Repeat for Balvenie Single Malt Scotch Whisky, Glenfiddich and more!

Scene 2 – A short step back in time and the salmon are happily swimming in massive enclosures in the chilly Atlantic Ocean and North Sea surrounding Scotland; plenty of room to move freely and build nice lean muscle. Their food is completely natural with nothing to speed up growth or in any way disrupt their normal development.  Plucked from the water at perfect size to achieve consistency of the end product, they are whisked to Campbells and Co where the young and lively team await their arrival.  Within minutes, they are scaled and fileted before their “spirited” dousing and dusting.  From there it’s into the immaculate smoking chamber with precision control, where they emerge plump, moist and smoked just enough so the salmon still shines as the hero but the smoke-kiss adds a depth for some great cocktail pairing.

This is the vision and the fine achievement of Campbells and Co, the new kids on the Scottish Smoked Salmon block, and one which they gave America a sneak preview of at the Boston Seafood Show where I had the joy of encountering them.

On my last trip to Scotland, I decided I must see this for myself and take a visit to the smokehouse in the small hamlet of Linlithgow.  The train ride from Edinburgh was barely twenty minutes and the view so intensely green I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. Happy cows and sheep grazed contentedly amid ruins, church spires and cottages, giving a sense of a village from a bygone era.

Farmhouse in Linlithgow

Ross Hastings, one of the smokehouse directors, was there to greet me as I disembarked, his beaming face full of that generous Scottish hospitality. In no time we were making our way through the sleepy countryside to The Heatherfield, home to the state-of-the-art Campbells and Co Smokehouse facility.

Established in 2016, Campbells and Co was actually the brainchild of Ross, when their
parent company Campbells Prime Meats was seeking to diversify and form a new company. With an eye to creating a unique and unparalleled product with quality and consistency at the forefront, his concept was to target the high end bar audience. He enlisted the help of Michelin chefs to create a smoked salmon that didn’t follow traditional paths but incorporated recipes and methods to define a style that could be cross-marketed with spirits.

They also brought on a Master Smoker who was able to design the smokehouse, as a chef would design a new kitchen, to craft a product with their own mark of distinction and production standards.  Working closely with Michel Roux, Jr., the Roux family, and the likes of Balvenie for whisky and Hendricks for gin, they have begun their foray into the market with whisky and gin cured smoked salmon, and a few other styles that are continually being honed and perfected. 

The fresh salmon is gently brushed with just enough of the spirit to  infuse a hint of the spirit’s notes without taking from the fish’s delicate flavor, a practice they extend to the amount of salt and smoke, so the salmon stays tender and moist.  Other flavors include the botanicals used for Hendricks in the Gin-Cured Salmon to perfect the partnership.

Their salmon is carefully sourced from Scottish ocean farms with close attention to sustainable practices.  It is brought straight to the facility, broken down to filets, put on the cure of Scottish organic salt and demerara sugar, and the liquor of choice where it cures for 6 hours. Then into the high tech smokers, where it is smoked at 26 degrees to a light, medium or strong smoke:  Not only exceedingly fresh, but 100 percent Scottish.

I sat down for a good Scottish cup of tea with Ross and one of his co-directors, Iain Murdoch Brown, to taste and learn about their cutting style.  A gleaming side of freshly smoked salmon is brought to the table, and they set about slicing it into thick vertical slices, rather than the thin angled slices you find mostly on the market.  The team believes these thicker, sashimi-like slices have a moister, more unctuous and rich tenderness that pairs brilliantly with shots of whisky, gin or other spirited beverages without the need for any accompaniments.

So, next time you slide up to your favorite upscale bar, mention Campbells and Co Salmon to your bartender. They’ll not be disappointed.

Cheers from Ross!

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