In this modern immaculate food laboratory, staff are preparing snack packs with olives and smoked turkey for first and business class passengers of Qantas. This is quite an unexpected activity in this peaceful countryside retreat called the Poachers Pantry. Monday is a quiet day. Not a single soul is wandering around. In the outdoor tranquillity, the air carries a light smoked scent.
The place is not that remote, but still, it is located away from the city, near the village of Hall in the Australian Capital Territory. The Poachers Pantry stands at the far end of a long dirt track, which is shadowed in summer by the canopy forming a narrow tunnel. A few quaint buildings are scattered in a delightful garden, hidden behind a few more trees. A little bridge, flowers and the den. No bears or poachers there, but a comfortable and simple coffee shop with dark timber and country furniture.
Some time ago, the owner of the place, a young British lady named Susan fell in love with Robert Bruce as she was travelling in Australia. She married the farmer of this 700 acre family property. The business story starts in 1991, when Susan’s brother came to visit. He, as a chef, knew how to smoke meat. That was a new idea to try in the region and they thought it could add value to the farm’s products. Although Robert has been growing sheep for wool production, they imagined it could be an improvement to turn part of the grazing property into a traditional country smokehouse.
The public being unfamiliar with smoked meat, Susan worked hard to show the versatility of the specialities. First, she opened cellar doors and arranged tastings. Then the couple planted the vineyard and created the “Wily Trout” wines, with a quite remarkable Shiraz. Finally, to further promote their range they opened the coffee shop. It has now become a successful and popular get-away with a very much enjoyed smokehouse meat platter: smoked ham either cooked or raw, moist duck, chicken with tarragon stuffing and lemon zest.
Smoked ham is very popular at Christmas, the busiest time of the year. Unlike European custom, which makes meat a cold weather favourite, Australians prefer to have a platter while relaxing on the deck on a hot day and ham for end of year celebrations.
“We have worked with the same suppliers of meat for years!” explains Susan Bruce. Traditional beech timber, which is imported from Germany, is being used in making their smoked meats. “It comes from a specialised supplier, so that we are sure that no chemicals are being used. We tried local wood, but it didn’t give good results at all, as there was a bitter taste in the meat.”
Now, employing the equivalent of 30 full-time employees, Susan and Robert Bruce deliver to some of the better placed Woolworths shops in Sydney, IGA supermarkets all over Australia except Darwin and Perth, and to Qantas. However, their guests on the property represent 40% of their turnover. “We won’t turn into an industry. The idea is to maintain the quality and we will continue to stay in a small niche.”