It wasn't very long ago that Fred West had an idea to turn Cook Inlet's abundant pink salmon into a value-added product that could be marketed to the world. "At that time, the market for pink salmon had just about gone away and commercial fishers could hardly get twenty five cents a pound for them," recalled West. He played around with a lot of homemade recipes until he came up with a salmon sausage that started raising the eyebrows of local public officials, businesses, and members of the public who gave his product rave reviews. Today, West's Tustumena Smokehouse specializes in custom smoking and curing, and has a variety of delicious products ranging from salmon sausage to salmon jerky, smoked salmon, turkeys, and hams that have become famous around the world.
"We're looking at a great Holiday season, and we're sticking to our original guidelines of using pink salmon as the backbone for producing our salmon sausages, jerky's, and pepperonis, that are all made exclusively from pinks. We do get custom orders from some countries, and people who want Sockeye or King salmon, but our backbone products are still pink salmon. I've not only stuck to my guns on using pink salmon, but I've stuck to my guns on not using MSG, nitrates, or gluten as well. We are all-natural and don't use any artificial coloring or flavor enhancements. It's been a long, slow road, but we've refused to compromise and now we see in the lower 48 and around the world that people are wanting to eat better and get away from preservatives and fillers. So we have been able to carve out a niche market with those in certain nations wanting to go all natural and utilize only wild fish products," West told the Dispatch.
Even though West says it's been a long haul, he feels Tustumena Smokehouse is just getting started. "We've only just begun to tap the overseas market. We have a market in Germany right now that we are producing a salmon jerky for that is buying about 50 kilos a week packaged in a 2 kilo vacuumed sealed bags. We ship from Anchorage, and they like the flavor of the product and especially the fact that it natural, wild, and contains no preservatives. As a matter of fact, the only ingredient that they want us to include is a little sea salt," he said. In the lower 48 however, West says the people are still more particular about color than the use of additives. "In a blind taste test no one can tell the difference between a product made with pink or sockeye salmon, but visually, you can see the appearance difference and because we don't use any color enhancements, people in the lower 48 expect to see a salmon sausage that is a bright red. So that's been kind of a hold up to that market, but were working to develop a brighter color using natural spices, and the coloring is improving, so we feel we have just begun to meet the demand for our products," said West.
At the Tustumena Smokehouse just 6 miles south of Soldotna on the Sterling Highway you'll find a complete line of Fred's natural Birch Wood smoked salmon, hams, and Buffalo meat products, plus unique Russian gifts imported directly from Russia. Tustumena Smokehouse is a family-owned business that has offered custom processed meats since 1993. Learn more at their website www.fredssmokesalmon.com or call 260-3401.
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