This guest blog was orignialy published in the Dec 2022 Hampshire Farmers Market newsletter.
With just over a week to go until the big day, I’m busy with my lists planning what we’re going to eat over Christmas.
The usual debate rages on – turkey, beef, or maybe goose?
But one thing doesn’t change and that’s some delicious smoked fish to accompany our English sparkling wine on Christmas morning.
Traditionally, it probably would have been smoked salmon but for the last few years, with my focus increasingly on local produce wherever possible, we have embraced instead our wonderful local smoked trout. Not only do we have an abundance here in Hampshire, but indeed, I would go so far as to say that:
We are extremely lucky to have the best trout in the world, thanks to our beautiful local chalk streams – namely the rivers Test, Itchen and Meon.
So, where better to go than Butler Country Estates which produces award winning smoked trout pate, fillets and whole fish! It is a relatively young business started up by Richard Butler in 2019 but is a real success story.
It all started at home. More specifically when Richard’s wife gave him a smoker for his birthday. Already a keen fisherman and in fact still fishes on his rare days off, Richard would catch the fish, smoke it by the side of the river and eat it there with a picnic. And then he started making his now award winning trout pate for dinner parties and when people began asking if he would make some for them, he knew he was onto something.
I love that this is how it started. And while success of course is based on sound business, Butler Country Estates wasn’t just founded on a perceived opportunity, but it’s Richard’s passion that really shines through into every aspect – he loves creating new products and is constantly developing new lines for the business.
Butler’s core business is the markets but commercial sales are increasing all the time – Richard says that Covid has shown them that you can’t put all of your eggs in one basket! They sell to various shops and cafes including one in Winchester who feature the cold smoked trout on their breakfast menu.
When I arrived for our chat on a Monday morning, smoking was in full flow as production always starts at 8.30 on a Monday, and continues Tuesday and Wednesday. It’s then made into pate, or simply vacuum packed as fillets and ready to go out.
The smokers are outside – one hot smoker, one cold smoker, and are not as big as I was expecting. It’s all done in small batches with a mix of different chips that give the trout its distinct flavour. The hot smoker has five or six racks of fish – twelve in all. There are just two in the cold one smoking away quietly.
The trout is all smoked on the bone as it gives a more concentrated and intense flavour to the fish. Hot smoking only takes four hours as it is actually cooking as well as smoking the trout, but cold takes longer because of course there is no heat to contribute to the process so more like 18 hours. Richard explained that cold smoked is a very mild flavour similar to smoked salmon, whereas the hot smoked has a more intense flavour.
As well as the seven different varieties of pate, including their ever-popular watercress and trout pate and the new Christmas one, they have expanded their range to include cold smoked trout, gravadlax trout, whole smoked trout, hot smoked fillets, and sides of smoked trout. And also now a Hampshire Dressing made from local apple cider vinegar, mustard and other delicious bits and pieces which complements the fish beautifully. The gravadlax was actually started last Christmas but has been so popular that they have kept it going all year!
So that’s my Christmas fish sorted – I shall be buying some gravadlax, some smoked trout to pop onto some blinis, and some Christmas pate for those peckish moments. Happy Christmas!