Wild boar and wailing children: visit Mackenzies Yorkshire Smokehouse
Nestled in the historic Washburn Valley up in Yorkshire, northern England, Mackenzies Yorkshire Smokehouse really knows how to make meat and fish taste delicious.
Most of my close friends don’t eat meat, so Mackenzies Yorkshire Smokehouse isn’t something I’ve been able to recommend very freely. This Dales-based smokery sells a wide, wide variety of stuff, but its bread and butter is meat - extremely delicious smoked meat. However, if you’re veggie, the smokehouse is still worth a visit, not least for the stunning drive through Washburn Valley and the strange little village of Blubberhouses.
Where is Mackenzies?
Mackenzies sits atop Hardisty Hill in the village of Blubberhouses, overlooking the Washburn Valley. The village (with a population of less than 100) is called Blubberhouses for two possible reasons. It’s either because over 200 years ago children would wail, cry and “blubber” on their early morning walk through the valley to work in the local mills, or it’s because the name derives from the Anglo-Saxon bluberhus, meaning "the house(s) which is/are at the bubbling stream". You’d hope it’s the latter.
Apparently when the village’s first water-powered flax-spinning mill was built in 1797 (called West House Mill), it had one of the largest waterwheels in Europe. You can be fairly sure that those kids did not care about the waterwheel.
And the name clearly captured JK Rowling’s imagination. If you’re a serious Harry Potter nut, you might know that the unnamed author of Aquatic Wonders of Yorkshire: A Wizard’s Field Guide snaps up a Grindylow specimen from Blubberhouses. But you’ll only know this if you’ve read the illustrated edition of The Prisoner of Azkaban, which would be a bit much.
The drive through Washburn Valley to reach Mackenzies
I say ‘the drive’ - you are of course welcome to walk to Mackenzies, but it really is in the middle of nowhere, and the cars go very fast up and down Hardisty Hill, so watch yourself.
The approach to Mackenzies from Blubberhouses is a wonderful, green, lush, driver-distracting affair, with spectacular views of Washburn Valley on the left side, complete with dry-stone walls, sheep, cows, and the River Washburn down at the bottom. It can really turn your head, so if you’re behind the wheel, wait until you’re in the car park. It’s also quite hard to do the views justice with an iPhone 6 camera, as you can see above.
When you arrive at Mackenzies, the exterior is a little disappointing. There’s no quaint, olde-worlde wooden feel to the building; it’s actually more of a big metal shed or warehouse. It’s also quite tempting to turn away, given the magnificent valley behind you - but please do go inside. People have been going inside Mackenzies for 22 years.
The smoked stuff at Mackenzies
Walking into Mackenzies, you’d have no idea there was a smokehouse there. There’s a shop, a cafe and a restaurant, but the smokehouse is behind closed doors, and you can’t really smell anything. You have to buy some of their meat or fish in order to taste the smoke - that’s how they get you.
So what’s the point in smoking meat or fish? Well, once you’ve eaten smoked meat or fish, you don’t really need to ask this question. For some reason, humans quite like the smoky smell of burning wood, so for thousands of years we’ve tried to infuse food with this smell. And it works extremely well. Most of the gorgeous smell and flavour comes from two compounds - syringol and guaiacol - so it’s all about getting food to absorb these compounds.
Mackenzies burn oak chips to smoke their food, which sounds lovely and traditional, although I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between oak-smoked, applewood-smoked, hickory-smoked and the other ones. They’re all just great.
When I entered Mackenzies, I made a beeline for the fridges to see what they had on offer, and I was delighted to find a range of smoked bacon, wild boar, gammon shank, chicken, duck breast, salmon and tuna. Naturally, I bought the wild boar (I’d never had it before), and it was mouthwateringly good. The taste was rich and nutty and - of course - smoky. It was a proper treat. I ate it on its own, just so I could really appreciate the taste, but I’m sure you’re meant to have it as part of a proper meal.
Apparently wild boar became extinct in the UK around 400 years ago, but after a series of escapes from farms in the 1990s, they’re back in the wild. That’s definitely a Pixar film waiting to happen.
The cheese, the beer, everything else
Despite marketing itself as a ‘smokehouse’, Mackenzies is much more than this - it’s a food emporium. What’s more, it mostly sells food and drink made by local suppliers, which tends to go down very well in North Yorkshire. The cheese is a case in point; they sell superb cheese made by the local Cheeseboard of Harrogate, including Harrogate Blue, Yorkshire Blue, Ewe Beauty, and Bomber. I bought a wedge of Harrogate Blue (which was very tasty and very… pungent), but I reckon it was the local Harrogate name that pushed me to buy it.
They also stock pasta made by the Yorkshire Pasta Company, honey rum made by Harrogate Tipple, and beer made by Black Sheep Brewery, based in the nearby Masham.
I finished my visit with tea and scones in the Mackenzies cafe. Excellent tea, excellent scones - the only disappointment was the leather bound Charles Dickens novels on the shelf next to me. Swap him out for some Charlotte Brontë or Laurence Sterne, and then Mackenzies will have gone fully local.
To get your hands on your own smoky goodness, head to Mackenzies Yorkshire Farm Shop official website.