First published in Landings, September, 2017
Smoked sardines, sure. Smoked alewives, why not? Smoked mussels, yum. And now, smoked lobster. Robert Young and his wife Kristie of Vinalhaven are busily smoking lobsters caught by Robert for sale to customers throughout the U.S. Young says smoked lobster has always been common on the island. His version can be found at two farmer’s markets in the mid-coast and is available on-line.
“I had a friend who smoked lobster. I tried it and I liked it,” Young, 41, said. His wife bought him a home smoker one year for Christmas and Young dove right in. He made smoked lobster products for friends and for his family when they went camping and then thought, “Hmmm, why don’t I try selling this stuff ?”
Young, who fishes on his boat the MacKenzie Hannah, decided to ramp up production in 2016. Headded a room to his processing space and consulted with Jason Bolton, a University of Maine food safety specialist, and the Island Institute in Rockland.
“We supported Robert through our Island and Coastal Business Launchpad program, which provides oneon-one business support and financial and digital literacy classes. Robert also received a Microgrant for Entrepreneurship and Community Impact Grant,” explained Briana Warner, the Economic Development Director at the Island Institute. “We are so thrilled about his business. It has been a pleasure to work with Robert and his family.
The couple started bringing their products to the Camden Farmer’s Market in 2016. “Last year was a learning year for us,” Young admitted.
The process of smoking lobster is fairly simple. Young lands his lobsters, steams and picks them one day, then settles them in a brine solution overnight. The brine adds to the product’s shelf life and, says Young, gives the lobster a little sweeter taste. The next day the meat is smoked over hickory or cherry wood chips, then packed in oil or combined with cream cheese as an hors d’oeuvre dip.
To ship, Young packs the smoked lobster in an insulated shipping container with gel packs. “You want it the freshest possible. We know what we sell at the farmer’s markets so we just make enough for that,” Young explained. He makes his own dry ice for use in the containers and buys his shipping materials on trips to Portland. “You don’t want anything to freeze,” he cautioned.
Robert and Kristie combine a Mainer’s inventiveness with contemporary savvy in their new business venture. And who knows? Perhaps smoked lobster from Vinalhaven will be the new gourmet item for discerning diners. “If I can make enough money doing this I’d say good-bye to lobstering,” Young said with a laugh.