Chalk Stream Trout
Since starting our blog, we’ve never claimed to be experts in what we write about so it is with no shame whatsoever that we hold our hands up and say that when it comes to fly fishing we know practically nothing. In fact, our understanding of the subject probably amounts to two facts:
1. J.R.Hartley is not a real person.
2. The River Test is world-renowned for its trout fishing.
We’re not even entirely sure that the first fact is true.
While I’ve lived in the area for years, trout has never been a fish I’d looked out for, to be honest. It always made me think of homemade pâté or Trout and Almonds, straight out of a 1970’s cookbook. My eyes were opened, however, when I had the good fortune to try some hot smoked trout at a local producers’ show in Southampton. Absolutely delicious.
So when I was invited to visit a trout farm by Chalk Stream, I naturally accepted with great enthusiasm. Dates were pencilled in…and then rubbed out again when the heavens opened, but eventually there was a break in the bad weather and one gloriously sunny day I drove out to Chalk Stream’s HQ near Romsey, Hampshire ready to get up close to some fish.
After eventually finding my way to Chalk Stream HQ, I was given a warm welcome from its founder, Hugo Hardman, who drove me up to see one of the four local farms that make up the Chalk Stream cooperative. Now, this was the first time I’d ever seen a fish farm and what struck me immediately was the gloriousness of its location, literally nestled in the Hampshire countryside. The term ‘idyllic’ would not be hyperbolic; the scenery was breathtaking.
Water is channeled from the river Test and flows right through filtration units that take out weeds and debris before passing through the huge tanks that house the rainbow trout. The water is constantly flowing through the site before passing through a channel that allows waste material to settle out and the clean water to flow back into the Test. There is no pumping or detergents necessary and, while possible, oxygen isn’t usually added into the water. It’s clearly a process that must comply with all manner of environmental regulations but it benefits from over 40 years of expertise and equipment designed by the farms’ CEO, Chris Saunders-Davies, who still lives on an island in the river. Amazing!
Because the water is constantly flowing through the site, it means that the fish are always swimming against it which, I’m told, makes for leaner fish. It also means that they get a constant supply of fresh water so there’s none of the muddiness that you can sometimes get in the flavour of lake trout.
And when I say the water is fresh, believe me, there is a real reason the waters of the chalk streams of Hampshire are referred to as ‘gin clear’. You just have to look at the pictures below to see how pure the water looks. With it being such a hot day, I was sorely tempted to jump right in but thankfully for Hugo and the fish, I resisted the urge.
Baby fish are actually bought in from specialist suppliers and then put in large tanks to mature. Each of these tanks can hold around 35,000 fish and as they grow in size they’re moved from one tank to the next. Of course, these fish are extremely well looked after and are not moved by hand. To minimise the impact on them, there is an intricate system of pipes that moves the fish around the farm. The size of the fish here is closely monitored and once mature, the fish are sorted by an interesting contraption that passes the fish along a conveyor until they flop through a hole that fits.
“When chefs order the trout, they [the trout] are still swimming” – Hugo Hardman
Because of the nature of the operation, Chalk Stream can get their fish selected, filleted (and smoked) on site and delivered “from water to waiter” in just 48 hours. Around half of the trout that is produced is smoked (hot or cold) while the rest is sent out whole or filleted. Surely this is about as fresh as you can get without donning waders and going out to catch them yourself?
Since the 1980s when Scottish salmon farming exploded, trout has taken a bit of a back seat but here’s hoping that the tides will turn and this delicious local alternative will become more readily available. As word spreads of the great quality of the fish, Chalk Stream’s base of customers is growing across the south. Do keep an eye out for this local fish on the menu at your favourite restaurants, farmers’ markets and food events.
Hugo very kindly gave me some cold and hot smoked trout to take away with me after my visit and they made for utterly delicious sandwiches and salads. This is a really flavoursome fish and I found the soft, flaky texture of the hot smoked trout nigh on addictive. While it’s a touch more expensive than salmon, once you’ve tried it you won’t look back.
As you can tell, I’m a trout convert.go back