What was the inspiration behind Charlie’s Trout?
I helped establish a wholesale trout business in 2014/15 and saw that nobody was offering smoked trout products directly to the consumer. So I set up Charlie’s Trout to fill the void. The greatest challenge was to overcome the popular misconception that the trout is a small fish living in a muddy pond. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Tell us a little bit about your story…
I didn’t come from a food and drink background. I worked in the City for many years before making my escape in 2014. We are a Sussex family and I have an ingrained love of the countryside and have fished for as long as I can remember. When I was offered the opportunity to leave my desk job to get involved in a new business selling trout to chefs and the like, I jumped at the chance. Charlie’s Trout was the natural progression from there.
Where do you source your trout from?
I spoke to the Longford Estate in Wiltshire before I set up the business. In order to offer the finest smoked trout, you have to start with the finest fish. The Wiltshire Avon runs through the heart of the estate, which provides the farms with hundreds of millions of gallons of crystal clear, mineral rich chalk water every day. The estate have been incredibly supportive of my business. Everyone there is dedicated to producing the highest quality fish in a fully sustainable manner, so they made an obvious partner for Charlie’s Trout.
What makes your fish particularly special?
The end product is second to none for a number of reasons. Firstly, freshness is absolutely key. We don’t hold any stock whatsoever. The process only starts when the customer places an order. The fish are harvested by hand and processed by hand. We then take them to the same smokehouse that we have used from day one. The smokehouse is a small family-run business a stone’s throw from the farm. The fish are hand smoked over Wiltshire green oak before being pin boned and sliced, again by hand. They are then packed and ready to be distributed. We use an absolute minimum of salt which allows for a wonderfully delicate end product with wonderful subtle flavours and a melt-in-the-mouth texture.
Tell us about your proudest achievements so far...
We have worked with a number of chefs and are currently working with Hélène Darroze at The Connaught. Last year, we were featured in the BBC Two programme Back to the Land with Kate Humble. We had a film crew with us for three days and the end result was aired on primetime TV to an audience of three million people. We have also been awarded two gold stars for our cold smoked trout in the 2018 Great Taste Awards, often described as the Oscars for food.
Do you have a favourite recipe using your fish?
There are so many super ways to use trout, whether it’s fresh fillets, hot smoked or cold smoked. Our fresh fillets, pan-fried and served with asparagus and new potatoes, are very much in season in spring. One of my personal favourites is a cold smoked trout salad with blood orange, edamame beans and pea shoots. Our website includes a number of exciting trout recipes.
What’s the best thing about being based in Sussex?
Here in West Sussex, we have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to high quality artisan products. I could fill pages, but to pick out a few: Wobblegate apple juice is hard to beat; Sussex Charmer cheese from Bookham Harrison Farms is a fantastic product; High Weald Dairy offer delicious dairy products; and Mike Noble at Noble and Stace chocolatiers create chocolates that will surely go on to national acclaim. If you are looking for a special treat to go with your smoked trout, we are very lucky to have the all conquering Wiston Estate producing some outstanding English sparkling wine on the rolling hills of the South Downs just outside Washington.
Finally, have you got any big plans for 2019?
It’s a big year for Charlie’s Trout. We are looking to expand the business to include more fresh trout offerings. I would like to get my products in more quality farm shops, retail outlets and into more chefs’ hands, as well as attending more high quality farmers’ markets. We now run four farmers’ markets each weekend in the heart of London and the feedback from the customers has been fantastic. We have a well presented, high quality product that I would like to make available for more people to enjoy.