Article appeared in issue 3, 2022
Frank Hederman of Belvelly Smoke House has been honoured for
his contribution to European culture
In April, Frank Hederman, the founder of Belvelly Smoke House in Cobh was awarded the Walter Scheel Medal. Self-taught craftsman and businessman, Frank was praised for his traditional smoking methods, as well as his ‘four-decade dedication to producing the finest possible quality smoked salmon’. The Walter Scheel judges said Frank had ‘redefined one of the most iconic products of Ireland’s culinary heritage.’
“This award is recognition from a prestigious European organisation for the authenticity and singular quality of the food we make, the skill and hard work that goes into it, and the perseverance that’s required to keep a food business like ours going,” commented Frank. “It’s an opportunity to pause and take stock of all the people along the way who have worked with us, supported us and believed in us, and to thank them sincerely.”
Established in 1982 in Cobh, Co. Cork, Belvelly Smoke House is Ireland’s only authentic timber smoke house for Irish salmon. It’s something Frank is particularly proud of. “It’s not just a question of putting up a name saying, ‘Smoke House’,” says Frank. “Although there are a few in the UK and Scotland, we really are the only company that has a traditional timber smoke house in Ireland. It’s a very genuine business and this is what makes us unique.”
Frank began the business in the 1980s while working as a fisherman in Cork. “The country was on its knees at the time,” he recalls. “I was working in Cobh which was a dynamic little fishing port.” Whilst working for a processor of pelagic fish, Frank got to know buyers of herring and mackerel in co-ops around the country and decided to build his own smokehouse.
Fast forward 40 years and Hederman products are sold in Ireland, mainland Europe and North America. They have appeared on the menus of Michelin-starred restaurants and in luxury food stores around the world. In Ireland, they are sold in the English Market shop in Cork and at farmers’ markets around the country, as well as being stocked in Morton’s and Robert’s in Dalkey, Co. Dublin.
"My nose is so attuned to the smell of smoke that
I can tell immediately how the process is going"
As well as smoked salmon, Belvelly Smoke House also produces smoked mackerel, eel, haddock, mussels, butter, spices, nuts and a wide range of handmade pâtés and fishcakes, as well as Hederman at Home dishes.
At Belvelly House, the fish are hung for smoking, a tradition which produces the finest of smoked salmon. Decades of smoking have created a seasoned, blackened surface on the natural wooden panels of the smoke house, and this gives the smoked salmon its distinctive character and depth of flavour. The company also hot smokes their fish. This process is carried out at higher temperatures in an insulated kiln with a live fire, so that the fish is slow-cooked and smoked, rather than cured as with traditional cold smoking. The result is succulent, flaky hot-smoked salmon and mackerel.
Frank doesn’t use timers or computerised programmes in the process but relies on his judgement, influenced by factors such as atmospheric temperature, humidity, and even wind direction. The entire process is carried out by hand. “My nose is so attuned to the smell of smoke that I can tell immediately how the process is going,” he says.
Every batch of salmon takes a different amount of time to smoke, and this varies from season to season. “It is simply smoked until its ready,” adds Frank. “The fish is produced and taken care of and kept refrigerated so that when you get it eventually, you’re getting a piece of salmon that has been carefully curated.”
This premium specialised product is quite different from commercial smoked salmon. “The smoked salmon that you typically see in the supermarket is produced in big mechanical kilns. It tastes the same.” Frank prefers the salmon he produces not to be vacuum-packed in order to retain its flavour. “Of course, the product that is sent abroad is vacuum packed, but people have greater respect for the fish if it is simply wrapped in paper,” he says.
He points out too that it should not be drowned in lemon. “We want people to respect what they’re eating,” he says. “It’s a like a fine, perfectly aged wine. It should be eaten slowly, and the flavour should be savoured.”