While it’s not uncommon for artisans to claim their products are unlike anything else, occasionally we come across delicious flavours we’ve never quite experienced before. Bee Lane are a new small business dedicated entirely to the unique flavours of introducing a long cold smoking process to Australian tomatoes.
We spoke to Bee Lane’s owner and operator Bronwyn Lane about bringing a new product to market and her fascination with smoking and tomatoes.
Learning the art of smoking
Bronwyn does not come from a culinary background and first learned how to cold smoke entirely as a hobby. "I was taught how to smoke food by a man who is now close to eighty. One of the things he taught me was how to smoke tomatoes. I stayed concentrated on tomatoes because I found the product exceptional and the process very interesting.” she said.
"Cold smoking is very different to hot smoking as the product is smoked and dried without cooking."
"I played around with it for around four years and tweaked the recipe in a number of ways to produce a contemporary product, including the use ofextra virgin olive oil. I eventually began working on prototype smokers specifically for the tomatoes.
As she developed and honed her skills in smoking, positive feedback from peers along with the realisation that nobody else was making what she was making pushed Bronwyn to bring the product to market.
"I’ve got friends who are chefs, and one in particular kept introducing people within the industry, saying ‘you’ve got to try this’. I was pushed slowly but surely to do something with it. I was thinking, it’s such a different and unique product that if I don’t do something , it’s going to disappear’,”
Unique produce in Perth
"It’s always good to be the first with a new product, but sometimes it’s easier to be the second, because the rules have already been established.”
From prototype smokers through to introducing people to a product they’ve never tried before, Bronwyn finds herself very much inventing the rules as she goes along.
The products have spoken for themselves, and each of her three products have won Gold awards at the Perth Royal Show and Champion two years running. Bronwyn mentions that once people try the tomatoes, they are usually hooked very quickly.
"The best R&D you can do is at farmers markets. That’s where you get to hear exactly what people think of your product. The people who come to my stand are the ones who are already adventurous. There are of course those who sit on the fence, but once they taste the tomatoes, they are usually sold. In two years I’ve encountered maybe four or five people who have tried them and not enjoyed them, probably less than 0.1%.”
In helping with the growth of the product, Bronwyn credits the modern craze for anything smoked and an increasing return to traditional cooking methods. Saying, "it’s getting back to basics. Smoke has been used for millennia to preserve food. People are really getting back to good, basic products.”
Making cold smoked tomatoes
The process of cold smoking tomatoes takes over twenty hours, and a range of variables make each batch slightly different from the last. Bronwyn doesn’t look to use any one specific varietal of tomato, and although she acknowledges subtle variations in the flavour profile from batch to batch, she says that the smoke is the key ingredient.
"There are only four ingredients in the original product: tomato, extra virgin olive oil, and a little salt and sugar. People don’t know what to expect, so watching their reaction to that first taste is always great."
"I’ve tried smoking capsicum, mushroom, zucchini and eggplant. They are all okay, but none are a patch on the tomatoes. There’s something that happens with the tomatoes that is completely unique, creating a flavour profile that is very intense."
While the smoking process can become increasingly technological and scientific, her preparations are decidedly bespoke. Bronwyn cores, removes blemishes, and cuts each tomato into wedges by hand. She is currently on her third smoker, with a newer, larger prototype in the works with the assistance of an engineer who is helping with the design. While she expresses a fascination in the scientific and analytic side of food, with the possibility of creating her own tomato lab down the track, at this moment, much of her efforts are spent introducing the product to as many people as she can.
"I’d never been directily involved in small business before so it’s been a massive and steep learning curve.” she said.
With a product as simple, unique and delicious as the Bee Lane cold smoked tomatoes, we know it’s just a matter of getting it into as many mouths as possible and we look forward to watching Bronwyn and her business develop.
After a long week of new events, shoots and articles, we try to keep our sundays pretty quiet. This Sunday we tried to make learn a few tricks on the new aeropress we won at the WA Aeropress championships (From a raffle, not from being good at making coffee), passed through our local farmers market and our favourite local vintage store before stopping in to Little Cheese Shop to make a cheese board.
Geoff is a wizard for pairing wine with cheese. We had been looking for a chance to break out a beautiful bottle of Brave New Wine Klusterphunk, and Geoff's recommendations all paired beautifully, the highlight being a goat's chevre made by Kris Lloyd of Woodside Cheese Wrights and seasoned with lemon myrtle and green ants.
If you haven't had green ants before-- and we hadn't-- they are a little flavour explosion of citrus and spiciness. We can't recommend it enough!
Our Cheese Board
Brave New Wine 'Klusterphunk' Chardonnay
La Tur Soft Ripened mixed milk cheese.
Yallingup Cheese Co. x Little Cheese Shop Nut Brown Washed Rind Brie
Kris Lloyd Artisans Anthill
Rolf Beeler 28 Month Extra Affinage Gruyere
Knutsford Gourmet Pink Peppercorn Lavosh & Poppyseed Crisp Breads
Aeropress: Our Favourite Recipes So far
Seb from Laika Coffee Roasters, incidentally the co-host for the Aeropress championship, was happy to hook us up with some locally roasted coffee and a simple recipe:
Pour 50g of water and swirl the Aeropress
at 0:30 pour to 150g, continue swirling
at 1:00 pour to 250g, swirl and cap the plunger on the aeropress
Plunge at 3:30
We've also been experimenting with a lower yield inverted method recipe based on how we like to make French press coffee.
Pour 50g of water, stir for 30 seconds.
Pour in remaining 150g
Rotate and plunge at 3:00
We recently got the chance to visit East Perth's Whipper Snapper Distillery to try the new cask strength release of their Upshot Whiskey. We spoke to co-founder and head distiller Jimmy McKeown about the path from their humble Moonshine through to their newest seasonal release.
Turbo charged Upshot
"We designed Upshot to be really approachable, even to be a gateway into drinking whiskey for a lot of people. I think we’ve achieved that, it’s sweet, nicely balanced. It’s not too much of a shock.” said Jimmy, “But there are a lot of whiskey drinkers, myself included, who want something with a bit more heat and a little more depth, that’s where the cask strength comes in.”
While just as sweet and balanced as the standard Upshot, the cask release turns everything up. To us it felt more complex, powerful, and benefited from a strong but very slow burn. We love drinking Upshot on long summer afternoons, but it’s bolder cousin feels better suited to keeping cold, dark nights in check.
"It’s much more volatile, in a way it matures faster, and the oak breaks down more quickly. At two years it wasn’t exactly where we wanted it, even though it was the exact same spirit as the Upshot. Being higher ABV, it needed extra time to develop and mellow out a bit of harshness.” said Jimmy.
Crafting a seasonal release
"I tried the Upshot recipe back when I was in the US. We tested it and liked it. A lot of the stuff coming out these days involves a bit more educated guessing."
The standard Upshot is diluted to 43% ABV before ageing in new oak barrels, and receives no further dilution at the bottling stage. The process gives more oak character to the whiskey, and ultimately requires much more barrel space and a lower yield than the industry standard of barrelling at a higher percentage and diluting later. This also meant that the barrel strength release could not simply be taken from existing Upshot barrels. A new set of barrels had to be reserved exclusively to age the new release at its 64% ABV.
"We went with a traditional ABV, we went to Scotland and asked what was traditional there, where, as a rule of thumb, it’s casked at 63.5% which for us became 64% by the time it had finished ageing.”
As the distillery steadily grows and becomes more familiar with their core range, so arises more opportunity to create special releases which exemplify West Australian agriculture and providence.
"We’re here to make good whiskey as number one. Now that Upshot is out and doing well, we want to make sure our special releases all have enough time and no financial restraints to get the product out. There's wheat whiskey, the Quinoa project, the single malt on their way too. It’s all about getting the flavour right."
Upshot Cask Strength comes out this Saturday at the Whipper Snapper Distillery, 139 Kensington St, East Perth.