It’s the time of year in Austin TX when I think about escaping the dog days of summer. So I made my way across the country to a small rural village on the Atlantic coast: Camden Maine in Maine’s mid coast region. I’ve been visiting there for the past 20 years. There isn’t anything I don’t like about it. For starters fresh lobsters at $3.00 a pound and roadside stands heavy with home grown produce and scribbled signs asking you to please leave cash in the box for what you take.
Camden is host to dozens of food artisans. The Saturday morning farmers market is filled with creative enterprising locals selling their wares: cheese makers offering a potpourri of goat, cow and, soon, Mozzarella di Bufala, heavenly crusty breads, jams made from just picked rhubarb and strawberries, and fresh-baked wild blueberry pie. I was impressed by a couple offering homemade tofu so good it stopped me in my tracks. But my all-time high this summer came from meeting Andrew and Libby Smith from Smith’s Log Smokehouse, who live in a rural enclave in Monroe Maine. They were selling smoked meats and cheese. I asked Andrew “How do you smoke cheese?” His quick response was “cold smoking.” It’s unquestionably not like smoking brisket so I had to check it out.
I asked them if it would be possible for me to visit and see their operation and they were gracious enough to accept. Their smokehouse is nothing fancy and has burned to the ground twice. The present smokehouse was built in 1980. Libby and Andrew work their operation together. Libby’s in charge of email, phone orders, bookkeeping and public relations. Andrew is in charge of everything that needs to be done in the smokehouse. During good-weather times of year, they load up their truck most days and head to the farmers markets scattered across the mid coast of Maine.
Libby and Andrew got their start selling jerky but they’re famous now for a variety of smoked meats, especially their cured black strapped molasses hams and bacon. The bacon (pork bellies) are slow-smoked for three days and rubbed with salt, sugar, sodium nitrate and garlic powder. They are smoked over smoldering pecan shells and oak that are ground into a powder-like form that resembles sawdust. Andrew explained that it’s a process much like smoking a cigar.
The temperature in cold smoking is kept at below 90 degrees. Andrew showed me how he gently shovels the sawdust-like mix into the smoker in layers to allow for a slow smolder. We crawled up a make-shift ladder into a tight opening in the smokehouse attic which is a surprisingly small space. The salmon and cheeses are placed on removable handmade cane shelving in the incredibly narrow alleyway above the smoke box. The attic holds 200 pounds of salmon, 200 pounds of cheddar and 150 pounds of mozzarella. The space sits above a 27-foot rise to allow the smoke to work its magic. This process takes about 19 hours of smoking. Andrew explained the importance of keeping any air drafts from entering the chamber and showed me how he tightly buttons down the latch. The smoker is smaller then I imagined and is covered with a blanket of insulating concrete plaster to keep it at a constant temperature. This is not an easy task since the ambient temperature outside sometimes reaches 30 below zero according to Andrew.
I left their home with an arm-full of smoked goodies and headed back to Camden. I love meeting people like the Smiths who have a real passion for what they do and are proud to show you how it all works. It also makes me incredibly aware of how much work and care it takes to deliver quality products like theirs. So if you want to impress your family and friends, order some smoked duck breast or the killer bacon for a BLT and please tell the Smith’s you read about them on the BBQ Lover’s Guide Blog!!