Where There’s Smoke . . .
Nodine’s Smokehouse has gained national acclaim for its quality smoked products.
“People want flavor. It’s as simple as that,” says Ron Nodine as we discuss why his Nodine’s Smokehouse products have consistently won taste challenges and been rated among the finest by culinary professionals across the nation. “The only secret to making a great cured product is the amount of time you want to spend making it.”
Nodine should know, as he’s spent the last 40 years smoking bacon, ham, sausage, kielbasa, fish, duck, pheasant, chicken, venison, other meats and cheeses. What started in a dairy barn at his home on Route 63 in Goshen has now grown to an international business with a 20,000-square-foot facility in Torrington, 30 employees and annual sales in excess of $4 million. Nodine’s Smokehouse offers over 200 products (including eight different kinds of bacon—mmm . . . bacon), and continues to grow, supplying gourmet chefs (Mario Batali orders his Christmas ham from Nodine’s), cruise lines and high-end New York markets like Dean & DeLuca, Citarella and Fairway.
A long way from smoking a few pigs in the back yard, right? “I remember when I was just starting and [a smoker] cost $500. I was like, ‘Wow, that’s a lot,”’ laughs Nodine, as he shows me around the Torrington plant. “Now a new piece of machinery costs me $160,000.”
The facility itself—which has been in operation for 20 years—is a white-brick building in a quiet residential neighborhood not too far from Route 8. It features multiple freezers, preparation rooms, wrapping and packaging equipment, a warehouse and offices—and yes, the pleasant scent of smoking meat wafts throughout. Of course, there are walk-in-sized smokers, shiny stainless-steel units that can handle multiple racks of product per smoking session.
Don’t worry, though—all that elaborate equipment doesn’t mean that Nodine is compromising the “Old World” methods he has employed from the beginning. Unlike the high-volume companies out there that quickly and cheaply produce “smoked” products using chemicals to simulate the process, Nodine’s uses actual smoke. Several kinds of wood chips (hickory, maple, juniper and other hardwoods) are mixed with aromatic ingredients such as apple pomace, and then are fed into units with rotating hot plates that allow the materials to smolder, creating smoke. The smoke is then funneled back into the cookers, where over the course of hours it is absorbed by the cooking meat, cheese or other product, deeply ingraining the desired distinctive flavor. It’s a unique process in that all of Nodine’s products are precooked in addition to being smoked, which means there is less shrinkage—a nice benefit that appeals to chefs.
As you might expect when dealing with cooking meats and poultry, cleanliness and sanitary working conditions are of the utmost importance. A federal inspector has an office here, and is in the processing areas several times a day, monitoring various stages of preparation. This is in addition to the constant testing and retesting Nodine’s does already because, as Nodine suggests, better safe than sorry: All it takes is one case of someone getting sick to do damage that would be devastating to what, despite the success, is still a small local business.
It’s also a family business—Nodine’s wife Johanne and their son Calvin are both heavily involved with operations, and many of the employees have been with the company for years. The Nodines even still live in the white farmhouse in Goshen where the smokehouse started; it sits on a few bucolic acres next to a converted dairy barn that now serves as Nodine’s official retail outlet.
The shingled space is a quaint little shop where you can, of course, purchase Nodine’s Smokehouse products from the cooler case in addition to other gourmet food items. The store is open daily year-round, and also offers fresh-made soups, sandwiches and baked goods. If you can’t make it out to Goshen, the full line of Nodine’s products are available online, and will be shipped in an insulated cold pack.
A former engineer, Nodine is “always trying something new” when it comes to products, like recently creating an andouille sausage—“It’s got a nice little hot kick to it,” he beams. He often “takes requests,” as it were, crafting specially smoked items for chefs that might well end up on the permanent product list. Also “something new” for a smokehouse, Nodine’s is branching into fundraising, offering 25 percent of the purchase price back to the organization.
“The bottom line, even with trying different things, is being consistent,” says Nodine. “If you have something that’s no good, you’ll know it pretty quickly. If it’s good, you’ll know that too. People want to be loyal, but if you don’t make a quality, great-tasting product, they won’t keep coming back for more.”
For more info or to order, call (800) 222-2059 or visit nodinesmokehouse.com.Where There’s Smoke . . .