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.