When the tar-blackened door opened on the timber smoke house, the shimmering silver skins of the salmon hit the daylight and the smell of smoking beechwood filled the air, a delicious welcome indeed to Frank Hederman’s smoke and curing house in Cobh.
I was pretty excited to visit the smoke house, on the banks of the River Lee in County Cork, close to Belvelly Castle.
Small, but perfectly formed it can boast to be the oldest, in fact, the only natural smoke house in Ireland. It’s here that Frank smokes his produce and I get a tour with his wife Caroline.
The salmon they smoke is Irish and sourced from a deep-sea farmed site, off Clare Island in County Mayo.
Within one day of harvest, the fish are filleted and cured using a dry-salt cure which acts in three ways – to kill bacteria, flavour the fish and act as a preservative. The fish is washed and hung in small batches with tenterhooks through the collarbone. Hanging keeps it from developing an over-smoked crust and from bathing in its own fat.
The skill then is to judge when the fish is ready to be taken down. Atmospheric temperature, humidity and wind direction are all contributing factors and there’s no timer on hand to let the smoker know when. Each batch is treated the same but may need more or less smoking time then the last and that dedication can be tasted in each mouthful.
Fish is also hot-smoked in a kiln with a real fire so the fish is slow-cooked and smoked at the same time, this time with a lighter salt cure. When I get round to eating my salmon, it simply is too good to be eaten with eggs, with the best sourdough toast or with anything or anyone else, you’ll be quite selfish once you’ve tasted this fish. I’m not even sure it needed the squeeze of Amalfi lemon I bought especially to dress it.
The mackerel was succulent and flaky and quite like no other I’ve ever tasted. In fact, on reflection I think Caroline just offered me a small taste, I ate a whole fillet (sorry about that).
Butter from Glenstal Abbey is smoked in a cold smoker and I can tell you that the results are spectacular. A small knob of it dropped inside a topped freshly boiled egg, is heaven-on-a-plate.
Frank doesn’t reserve his smoking skills for just fish, cheeses from some of Ireland’s finest cheese-makers – Corleggy and Hegarty’s Cheddar are given the Hederman touch and baker Robert Ditty uses the smoke house to turn smoked oats into oatcakes. Ditty’s Smoked Oatcakes are now available in 411 Marks and Spencer stores this month, as part of the Taste of the British Isles initiative. Nuts, seeds, garlic and sun-dried tomatoes for Belvelly Pesto are also smoked here. Gravadlax and before the ban on eel fishing, the slippery peat-tasting silver kind was smoked here too.
You’ll find Hederman products at Midleton Farmer’s Market on Saturday morning and on Friday morning Frank’s Father is on the stall at Cobh Market in all weathers. You’ll find Frank in the English Market in Cork City. A great excuse for me to return there to meet him myself – it really is a must-visit for any food lover.
In London, Frank supplies high end stores, including Selfridges and restaurants including the wonderful Bentley’s Oyster Bar & Grill.
Details of all Frank’s products are on the Hederman website.