London Brick Kilns in the Cotswold Countryside
The first of our ‘Thyme Out’ features where the chefs visit local food producers, food heroes and growers who bring their unique artisanal products to the Cotswold landscape.
Matt & Daryll visit Coln Valley Smokery
Arguably the most traditional smokery in the whole of the UK, Coln Valley Smokery is a trusted, family-run enterprise, sitting between the hamlets of Coln St Dennis & Fossebridge, a stone’s throw from the Chedworth Roman Villa and on the Fosseway – the spine of the Cotswolds linking Cirencester to the Roman Empire. You can feel the history.
Where many producers use ‘traditional’ smoking techniques there really is only one other establishment (in Scotland) like Coln Valley Smokery using traditional kilns in addition to traditional methods. It is seriously impressive. Mark Osborne has built updated versions of the original London Brick Kilns, ensuring the smokehouse produces an acclaimed smoked salmon “as it used to taste.”
We entered the stainless steel areas ahead of the kilns, into a set up where the technology and hygiene discipline is wholly 21st century, but then as Mark opened the door ahead of us we took a step back in time, into the kiln. Each of the six kilns holds 300 sides of salmon sourced from the West Coast of Scotland. Six piles of oak shavings split between fine and coarse chips, each chamber is dark, deep and eerie. The contrast is stunning - pink sides of salmon flesh against the black charcoal walls. Immediately Mark sets fire to each pile of wood chips, the smoke engulfs the chamber, he turns the extractor on and the smoke is drawn away. The flames look like they might burn the salmon but the fans regulate the heat, his design ensures the heat is drawn out without cooking the fish.
Using Israeli Dead Sea salt – having tried using other salts this produces the most delicious results. There is a little sugar added to the cure, Mark tells us he is planning to remove it as people are concerned about sugar intake, but it is a tiny percentage and adds a little colour in addition to taking the edge off the salt. We will see how its removal affects the taste. Curing time is between 14-17 hours depending on size, it is a slow seductive process that demands patience.
We were struck by the passion of Mark and his team, the genuine drive to keep the process as authentic as they can, with an abiding respect for their product, the craft and care it requires. They are a perfect fit for the ethos behind Thyme and the food we produce. We come back laden with hot smoked salmon for The Swan and hotel guests at Thyme, it is perfect in our breakfast goose egg omelette with watercress and chilli jam – enjoy the recipe …