Meeting Smoke Folk, a smokery in the heart of Beckington
PUBLISHED: 13:49 22 February 2019 | UPDATED: 13:49 22 February 2019
Supporting people in need, sustainable working practices and roots in family tradition fuel the burning heart of a Beckington smokery
Although a method of preservation and cookery as ancient as fire itself, smoking food is definitely a strong culinary trend of the 21st century.
Not long after fire was used as a means of cooking, smoking methods were employed to transform the flavour and texture of meat, utilising it as a way not only to flavour and tenderise but also preserve. A preservation method that has continued to be explored over the centuries, with recent years seeing a broadening of ingredients thrown in the smoker, the process of smoking has become ever more exciting.
On a rudimental level, the Smoke Folk was inspired by Oliver Jones’ grandfather’s love for perfectly smoked salmon. The son of a kosher butcher with Lithuanian roots, grandfather’s simple pleasures in life included a daily plate of thinly sliced salmon and tinned peaches (not at the same time, however!). When Oliver inherited his Russian-imported, 1950s’ salmon knife, it seemed that he also inherited grandfather’s love for smoked fish. It was the family’s move to Beckington near Frome, however, that made the dream of becoming a food producer a reality.
“Having moved to Frome a couple of years ago, we were excited by the wide range of artisan producers, the markets in the area, and the independent spirit,” Oliver explains. The Smoke Folk organically developed following a year on the South West Social Entrepreneurs start-up course that offered an opportunity to learn the vital skills needed to start a business.
Having both worked in cultural and creative industries, Oliver and his wife Tora understood the importance of not only having a strong product and desirable brand, but establishing a strong and sustainable business ethos.
Oliver says: “We are focused on making social change through the business by offering training, volunteer and employment opportunities to people facing barriers in employment, whether it’s due to mental health challenges, lack of opportunity due to locality or going through rehabilitation”.
A specialist in socially-engaged arts, Oliver has worked internationally, spanning numerous cultures, developing communities through creating social capital and empowering them to fulfil their potential. “When The Smoke Folk was in its initial stages, we knew that supporting people in need, especially in the current political and social climate, was going to be central to the business.”
Oliver’s enterprising approach reaches further than just supporting the immediate community - sourcing of all ingredients and equipment is also considered. There is no smoke without fire, therefore all of the wood is sustainably sourced from responsible suppliers operating renewable resources policies and demonstrating a commitment to forest stewardship. “We ensure that all of our suppliers, be it for wood, nuts, salmon or other ingredients, are as close to us in Somerset as possible,” he says. “We have spoken to a wide range of suppliers, and only use those that correlate with this ethos.”
Using a combination of both traditional and contemporary techniques, The Smoke Folk explores a range of smoking methods and wood resources to arrive at unique and unusual products. Sourcing smoke-woods, herbs and spices from local suppliers such as Hot Smoked in Wellington, Oliver blends a plethora of wood types including oak, pecan, hickory and sweet chestnut, to create complex flavour profiles specific to each ingredient.
The smoke market is filled with easily-permeable products such as meats and fish but Oliver is always one for a challenge, and so he has ventured into less conventional products. “I think the most inspired product is probably our cardamom and tea smoked cashews. We actually grind up the pods and tea leaves, mix them with some alder wood, and let it smoulder away for eight hours. The cardamom complements the cashew amazingly and is a subtle and surprising addition to the usual smoked nut. The tea gives it a lovely aroma, and the alder a smoky background.”
Although The Smoke Folk wants to push conventions with its innovative products, the company remains rooted in Oliver’s Baltic ancestry. Traditional methods of salt curing and cold-smoking salmon remain a priority, giving it authenticity and depth of flavour whilst also feeding Oliver’s regular smoked salmon habit. Simply curing in 100% salt sourced from the Dorset seaside, Oliver uses Baltic traditions.
“We only use sustainably sourced salt in our cure. Some people like to add sugar, but this was never traditionally used in the Baltics as it was an expensive commodity that couldn’t be afforded to be used in a cure. I have chosen to follow in my ancestral tradition.”
Being an integral part of an ever-growing independent town, Frome’s small business community has helped The Smoke Folk to burn bright on the food producer market in just a short period of time. This creative and supportive community has offered a positive platform to launch another interesting and innovative food product. “People are genuinely willing to take a risk and support new producers here,” says Oliver. “We are growing a team around us who are local, such as our graphic designer, and we are being stocked in shops such as Fromies that support local businesses. It really is a great place to start a food business.” 2019 is looking like an exciting year for these fiery Frome folk.
To find out more visit thesmokefolk.com.