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A food blog from NHPR news, digital, & programming staff, exploring food & food culture around the state & the New England region. On-air features air Thursdays on All Things Considered and Saturdays during Weekend Edition.

Foodstuffs: Tradition and Tech Align at a N.H. Smokehouse

Behind the counter at Fox Country Smokehouse stands the original smoker from 1969. It’s a wood closet – maybe six by four feet – with metal racks and a light bulb. The walls in there are deep brown, almost black. But they shine. You’d think they were shellacked, but the gloss comes from something else.

"It’s actually the creosote from the smoke," says Bill Annis, smokehouse manager. "This is the original door from day one. It just gets a little heavier every year from the smoke."

This whole store smells incredible, but the smokehouse in particular smells like years of smoke and spices. It's a smell Annis cannot get out of his clothes and skin.

"But I don’t get tired of it," he says. "I love it."

In the 1960s, this was Canterbury farmer Charlie Fox’s backyard business. Fox's son owns it now, and Annis has worked here 20 years. In the early days, they only smoked custom orders. Farmers brought in pork bellies, while hunters brought in venison and bear.

"We were doing 10,000 pounds of just custom alone a week. It was insane."

The business is more commercial now, and more mechanized: big refrigerated rooms with slabs of meat hanging neatly on racks. Fox Country still does custom orders, but no wild meat. And the science is still the same: brine the meat for a week, smoke for a day, and package. Same process for a whole turkey as for everything else, including pet food.

Annis says they smoke a lot of beef bones and pig ears for dogs.

But bacon is the money maker for Fox Country Smokehouse. At the holidays, they crank out hams and turkeys. Year round, they also smoke lots of cheese, lots of nuts. And Annis says the quality of the product is all about quality of the wood, and how you tend the fire. That’s been updated, too.

"Charlie was up all night long," Annis says of the original owner. "He used a regular woodstove like you use in your house. He would turn the logs so they would smolder and not burn up."

Now there’s a machine called “a smoke producer.” It slowly burns hickory sawdust – the way a pellet stove pushes sawdust through a burner – then blows the smoke into the room.

And wouldn’t you expect that in 2015? In an old smokehouse in Canterbury, salt and smoke work diligently alongside plastic and automated packagers. The old and the new, under one roof. But, it’s the old that customers smell when they walk in the door.

"That’s what you hear a lot is 'back in the day,'" says Annis. "'This reminds me of back in the day.'"

Before joining NHPR in August 2014, Jack was a freelance writer and radio reporter. His work aired on NPR, BBC, Marketplace and 99% Invisible, and he wrote for the Christian Science Monitor and Northern Woodlands.
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