Located between the Belgian cities of Bruges and Ghent, you’ll find a small salmon smokehouse in the village of Beernem. There, salmon is smoked in the traditional way. A popular product for fish stores and market traders, especially during the holidays.
Sabine Wybo and husband Patrick Mosbeux took over the salmon smokehouse from the previous owner in 2011. Sabine then already worked for the company – that was founded in 1994 – for a long time.
“I started there when I was twenty, in 1996. At that time, I had no experience whatsoever with salmon smoking. I started as a driver and also worked in the smokehouse. I’ve seen the company evolve over the years”.
In the years leading up to the acquisition, Sabine Wybo was in charge of the company several months a year. “The owners were occasionally abroad during the quiet periods. In those months I led the company.”
When the previous owners wanted to retire, it was logical that Wybo and Patrick Mosbeux would take over the company. Husband Patrick had been the company’s salmon supplier for ten years, with his company Wymofish. This activity was added to the business and the combination of their surnames became the new name of their company: Smokehouse Wymo.
Norwegian farmed salmon
Wymo is a small, artisanal smokehouse. Wybo handles all the daily operations personally, supported by employee Martine Dewitte.
“That is very important to me. This way I know exactly what I deliver to my customers,” she said.
The fresh salmon fillets arrive at Wymo three times a week at night. The company only uses farmed salmon from Norway, supplied by Murko Seafood from Yerseke in The Netherlands.
“Murko has been our supplier for years. They are looking for the right quality for us, and we fully rely on them for that. Quality is very important to us, because we mainly supply fish stores and market traders,” said Sabine.
Wymo uses two traditional smoke ovens.
“Per oven we can smoke 140 salmon fillets. The smoking process is fully automatic. We no longer work with open fire, like we did in the past, but with glow elements that are heated electrically. That way the oak and beech sawdust will smoulder slowly. This produces the smoke, which is automatically drawn into the smoke oven.”
The cold smoked salmon is subjected to a long treatment process.
“The salmon is dry salted. This is the traditional way; dry salting draws moisture out of the salmon. With brine you can make a much cheaper product, but the quality is less. We prefer high quality and so do our customers.”
Sabine Wybo and Martine Dewitte start salting at six in the morning.
“The salmon fillets remain in the salt for 4.5 hours before we rinse them off. Then the drying process starts: at low temperature in the smoker for eleven to twelve hours. After that the salmon is smoked for eight hours and cooled down. “That’s all done automatically. Then we take the racks out of the oven, to rest overnight in the cold room.”
It is only possible to slice the salmon when it’s completely cooled, she explained. “We slice by machine as well as by hand. After that the salmon is vacuum sealed and packed. For the holidays, we work with gift packaging.”
Production at Wymo depends on the time of year. “During spring, summer and holidays, we notice a heavy hustle and bustle, and the sales figures go up.”
The smokehouse also produces hot smoked salmon. “We only do that once a week and on request. Cold-smoked salmon makes up the largest part of our turnover.”
Gravad Lax and gin salmon
In addition to the smoked products, Wymo also has a few fresh salmon products in its range, namely gravad lax and gin salmon. “These are mainly summer and holiday products.”
The idea for the gin salmon was developed by themselves.
“Both gravad lax and gin salmon are marinated for two days. The customer can choose whether he wants it whole or sliced. With these two fresh salmon products the slicing is done by hand.”
In the past, Wymo mainly supplied wholesalers. Nowadays, the company also supplies a lot of stores and market stalls. “My husband has put a lot of energy into searching for those specific customers. He drives there to deliver the orders. We call the customers every morning to ask what they need.”
Wymo also has an online ordering system for individual customers. “These are mainly people from the neighbourhood, who come here to pick up their order themselves.”
Corona had a big impact on the company, said Sabine Wybo. “Particularly during the first lockdown, when the hospitality industry was closed and the markets had to close.”
Wymo also delivers in the Netherlands. “We supply our smoked and marinated salmon to wholesalers and market vendors in the province of Zeeland, which is not far from here. Especially in the town of Breskens, but also to Murko Seafood in Yerseke. From there it’s delivered to catering companies in the Netherlands.”
Christmas bustle and business gifts
During the busy period before Christmas, New Year’s Eve and New Year, extra help is called in.
“Demand increases enormously and business gifts are added on to that. Every year we also deliver a large quantity of salmon to the local Rotary clubs. They resell the salmon fillets and with the profit they support a good cause.”
Which means that in the weeks before Christmas and New Year’s Eve, Sabine Wymo, Patrick Mosbeux and Martine Dewitte work long hours. Especially the period before Christmas is busy.
“Most business gifts are for companies, so they have to be delivered before Christmas. Pretty hectic, but that’s logical because it’s the busiest period in which you can make a big turnover.”
And their plans for the future?
“Continue as we are doing now! We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, so we keep it small. We want to continue to deliver the same quality and smoke our salmon according to the current method. That’s how we distinguish ourselves and we want to keep it that way.”