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Meet the producer - Staal Smokehouse
A traditional craft in a modern age 
There aren't many trees in Iceland, so the smokehouses there have to be inventive – they use dried sheep manure. Unsurprisingly, it smells appalling. But the end product is delicious. It's the kind of obscure-but-fascinating fact that Justin Staal, of Staal Smokehouse, throws into conversation the way other people show off their knowledge of FA Cup winners. In a former life, he worked for high-end travel companies which ran specialist trips for freshwater fishermen – the kind of holidays most of us can only dream of, where the participants stay in luxury camps and are collected by helicopter to be taken to remote fishing locations each morning. When he wasn’t accompanying them, Justin would stay behind at camp and take a keen interest in the local treatment of the catch.



Oleg’s belly button 
"In Russia, I learned smoking techniques from Oleg – he must have weighed 23 stone, and wore T-shirts that never went below his belly button. They were more like crop tops," he says. "In Iceland, they use dried sheep muck. The smell is unbelievably bad, but the taste is to die for. They smoke things that wouldn't go down too well in this country, though – guillemot, Icelandic pony. But they also smoke entire lamb shanks; something I'd really like to try."



A couple of years ago, when Justin and his wife Georgina, and two sons Archie, now six, and Sebastian, three, decided they'd like to move back north to her family's farm at Long Riston, East Yorkshire, they started casting around for ideas to set up a business. Both loved food, so they considered installing fishing lakes, or a pig unit for charcuterie; or growing garlic. 

"And then my father-in-law gave me an article about smoking that Mark Hix had written, and said: 'Look, this is what you need to do. It's what you did in Russia'. And he was right." So right, in fact, that Staal Smokehouse opened just before Christmas 2011, and by Christmas 2012, Justin was working 72 hours at a time with only one five-hour sleep break just to keep on top of his orders. The hot smoked salmon had also won the title of Best Fish and Seafish in the 2012 deliciouslyorkshire awards He was also supplying both hot and cold smoked salmon to East Yorkshire's only Michelin-starred restaurant – the Pipe and Glass Inn.

And when Justin describes the Icelandic smoked lamb, and how he'd like to add it to his repertoire (although without the sheep manure element), you can see the cogs in James' brain whirring to create new dishes around the ingredient. Justin admits that he was nervous about approaching James at first. "The palate of a chef like James is so good," he says. But James is full of praise for Justin's product. "Whenever I'm looking at a new supplier, I have to weigh in the balance whether their product is worth it – will my customers be willing to pay that little bit extra for it? Justin's stuff definitely falls into that category - it's certainly not style over substance," he says.
 
One-man band 
A tiny operation – Justin is a one-man band, with occasional help on the paperwork from Georgina – Staal Smokehouse currently produces a small, but select, range of products; hot and cold smoked salmon and trout, gravadlax, smoked mackerel, chicken and duck. On the day we visit, he's just added haddock to the menu. Everything is sourced locally, with the exception of the salmon, which comes from fully accredited and sustainable farms on the west coast of Scotland - the closest you can get, Justin says, to wild salmon, which he would prefer to use, but which is currently threatened.

The fish and meat is brined before smoking – the salt helps the smoke flavour to adhere to the flesh – then smoked over oak and apple. Even his two smoking cabinets are locally sourced, coming from AFOS of Hull, one of the world's leading suppliers of smoking equipment. He’s a one-off, a true artisan – just the kind of supplier James enjoys using.

You can see more from James' visit to Staal Smokehouse at www.thepantryonline.co.uk or alternatively check out www.staalsmokehouse.co.uk 


PUBLISHED :April 2013
TAGS : FOODRESTAURANTMEET THE PRODUCER
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