It is Tuesday in the smokehouse of Sugartown Smoked Specialties, which is to say, "Spread Day," which is to say, the day they make the Hungarian smoked salmon spread that the regulars will descend upon - with customary vengeance - at the Lancaster County Farmers Market in Wayne the very next day.
So in the back of the spare, 1,600-square-foot workspace in a nondescript office park on the outskirts of West Chester, Jay Simpson, the operations director, is churning the latest batch in an old 20-quart mixer.
The spread (a staple on Simpson's own bagels, seedless cucumbers, baked potatoes, even mushroom caps) is a rich blend of cream cheese, paprika-scented smoked salmon, and blue cheese, its shelf life rather short.
It's an addictive crowd-pleaser. But it's hardly a headliner: Don't look for it on the Sugartown Web site, which devotes its attention to the showier artisanal stars - the sweet-cured Hungarian salmon itself; smoked pheasant, quail and duck breast; hickory-smoked pork tenderloin; and as of last month -
- the award-winning (in a competition of small producers sponsored by the Gallo wines family) "natural smoked Tasmanian Trout."
Sugartown's founder and owner Scott Hattersley had been planning to attend a seminar on sustainable farming this particular day, but it was postponed. So he shows off his office, decorated with a mounted tarpon, worthy of Hemingway, landed off Havana in 1930 by Hattersley's grandfather. Near it is a vase of pheasant feathers, flashing like rustic sword points.
He is ginger-haired and gap-toothed, a ringer for Ron Howard, the movie producer. And on this afternoon he's still savoring his 15 minutes of stardom, "a cool 24 hours" during which he was limo-ed last month to Manhattan for Gallo's awards luncheon, presented the gold medal with his co-honorees - among them Lake Erie Creamery's Blomma Cheese and Sourwood Honeycomb from Savannah (Ga.) Bee Company - and limo-ed back home again.
Hours later, he repacked and headed up to northern Pike County to his hunting and fishing camp. And what happened next he mentions with equal delight: At 11:59 a.m., facing a noon ceasefire deadline, he bagged a 19-pound wild, long-bearded turkey, only his second in 22 years of avid turkey hunting.
In fact, it was his hunting and fishing and, later, experiments at kettle-smoking wild pheasant and trout that led him, while he still lived in historic Sugartown nearby, to a series of contacts that launched him into the fish-, fowl- and game-smoking business year round.
First came the Hungarian smoked salmon, still the best seller (fish category). The Tasmanian trout came later. Farmed in ocean nets south of Australia, it has the rosy pinkness of salmon - in Tasmania it's sometimes called "Coral Trout" - but a flavor decidedly more delicate, and at room temperature, a lush and hot-smoked sweetness. (The fillets, which retail for about $13 a half pound, are brined first in a sugar-salt-water solution, then smoked at 145 degrees for half an hour, enhancing, but not overwhelming, the fish's inner troutness.)
The trout, salmon and duck are sold retail at a handful of markets - Hill's Quality Seafood Markets, and Janssen's Market in Greenville, Del., in addition to the Wayne farmers market.
But it's not only the spreads that are giving them a run. Sugartown's smoked portobello caps have become the biggest seller by weight.
And this summer, another experiment debuts: Hattersley says he's determined to smoke a local hero - the legendary Mirai sweet corn they grow at Pete's Produce Farm down the road.
I've got a personal gold waiting for him if he succeeds.