With faces slowly numbing to the insidious cold, we watch, mesmerised, as the red salmon dance and sway to their own dark tune, like peak hour commuters on a crowded bus reaching for the sky – Woodbridge Smokehouse, Tasmania
The dichotomy couldn’t be more stark. An hour ago we were enjoying a stunning winter’s day from the warmth of our trusted four-wheeled steed. The urban fringes of Hobart had fallen behind, replaced by the deep blue waters of the d’Entrecasteaux Channel on our left and vivid fields of grass to our right, drunk on winter rain.
Our destination was Woodbridge, a tiny hamlet on the road to nowhere.
Of course, as captives to our noses we were no strangers to this quaint speck of a village.
Woodbridge lies on the edge of Peppermint Bay, not only a culinary sandbox for David Moyle and the team at The Stackings (before moving on to Franklin in Hobart), but also the lunch time cruising destination for thousands of nautically inclined travelers via Peppermint Bay Cruises.
Yet even without these credentials Woodbridge is worth a visit on its own merits. Every time we escape the hustle and bustle and take the slow drive south we are struck by its quaint, rural beauty; a tiny window to an earlier, simpler time.
There is no better example of this than in the origins and folk lore of Woodbridge Smokehouse.
Chances are you haven’t heard of Woodbridge Smokehouse. But that’s ok!
After spending an afternoon with Master Smoker Roger Scales it’s pretty clear that this isn’t your typical piscine Goliath, looking to impose themselves on the plates of millions.
Instead, as with the all the very best, it’s the journey towards perfection and the joy of the human connection that appear to propel the team forward under the expert eye of Roger.
It’s funny how the origins of a story can be fraught with overlapping and intersecting threads, themes and coincidences, extending in all directions yet ultimately looping back on themselves.
Take Roger for example, a man with salt water in his veins if ever I’ve seen one! There aren’t many that can say they’ve circumnavigated the globe in a small boat at the mercy of Mother Nature! In a classic case of nominative determinism (google it…I had to!) it was only inevitable that a 2004 sea-change to Tasmania should also bring Roger to the discovery of the ancient skill of smoking.
And here is where the air becomes hazy so to speak, just like the smokehouse ovens themselves, fat on smoldering apple orchard wood chip and well tamped Tasmanian celery pine shavings…
Some details are crystal clear, yet others remain occluded. Hints of the dark arts and age-old secrets from the Vaterland. Recipes and ratios, barter and brine…sounding more like medieval alchemy than modern day cooking!
We learnt a lot, but as with any master of their craft there is always a secret or two, hiding behind bright eyes and a cheeky grin. We’ll give him that.
And so has the world.
From such humble origins in a giant shed on a tiny apple orchard, the team at Woodbridge Smokehouse is receiving significant accolades from the most unlikely of sources.
- First class cabin dining option on Etihad Airways? Check!
- Accolades from Julie Bishop and the Australian Heads of Mission at Government House? Yep!
- Gold medal at the 2016 Sydney Fine Food Show? You know it!
If you’ve tried it, you’ll know what everyone’s talking about. For us it was the subtlety of the smoke and the delicacy of the fish that really got us excited.
Smoking of any smallgoods always comes with an element of risk. More is most certainly NOT better, and timing is critical if it’s a balanced, refined product you’re looking for at the end of the process.
It is here that the skills and technique employed by Roger are on full display, with the flavour of the trout and salmon accentuated and lifted to new levels, equal parts dusky, saline and sweet. The secret surely has to be in the dry brine, consisting of coarse salt, pepper and a number of other secret ingredients around which Roger quite rightly, and in the nicest possible way, deflected any line of questioning!
We tried a few different variations on the theme; cold smoked Atlantic salmon sourced from the d’Entrecasteaux Channel right next door, cold smoked ocean trout from Macquarie Harbour on Tasmania’s rugged west coast and a hot smoked version of the trout as well. Apparently tuna and king fish also make the occasional appearance.
All were standouts, and choosing a favourite comes down to personal preference. For us the cold smoked ocean trout was the winner, as it seemed to offer a more complex yet balanced flavour.
In saying that, a short stint in the oven did wonders for the hot smoked trout fillet! As suggested by Roger, we left it in just long enough for the natural oils to start beading on the surface of the fillet. With a minimum of effort the tender flesh gently parted, revealing the rosy pink interior. The texture was unlike any salmon we’ve eaten previously. Was it the quality of the product? The simple technique? Both? The fish had lost none of its moisture, remaining firm yet delicately falling apart at the slightest pressure.
And that flavour…wow. Normally eating our smoked fish cold, this was a wake up call as to how tasty baked trout can really be! As we’ve said many times now, simplicity always brings out the best in food.
Concluding thoughts on Woodbridge Smokehouse?
We visited Woodbridge Smokehouse intending to focus on the fish, yet over the space of a couple of hours and a tour of both the processing shed (home of the dancing salmon!) and the extensive grounds, it became quite clear that the most fascinating story is in Roger and his symbiotic relationship with both the land and the people of Tasmania.
Tales of the apple orchard, 25 acres of Red Delicious, Fuji and Gala thriving on their very own fish-flavoured fertiliser! Unique plantings, including a very healthy yet critically endangered Wollemi Pine. Stories of smoked salmon as a form of currency amongst the locals. The excitement in his face as he revealed the sweeping views from the top of the hill and spoke of future dreams. The story behind the tiny porcelain salmon that adorn the rock wall at the entrance to the property (stop and have a look, they’re very cute!). Even the odd little history lesson.
Tiny insights into a remarkable man with the vision, tenacity and capability to take Woodbridge Smokehouse from Tasmania to the world.
How to find Woodbridge Smokehouse?
EDITOR’S NOTE – AUGUST 2020 – Woodbridge Smokehouse has closed it’s doors to visitors, however you can still find their delicious products at local providores such as Hill Street Grocer, Lipscombe Larder, Woodbridge Village Store and the famous Salamanca Markets. of course, you can also purchase online through their website: Woodbridge Smokehouse.
Click here for the complete list of stockists.
In parting, we’d like to extend our heartfelt thanks to Roger and the team for inviting us down to visit their humble establishment, and for providing us with a few samples of their smoked goods to taste. When they’re this good, we’re only too happy to help spread the word!
And because we simply can’t resist slipping in an obscure pop culture reference, we give to you….The Salmon Dance!!