VINALHAVEN – Robert Young was born and grew up on Vinalhaven. He married his high school sweetheart, Kristie, and they have two daughters. Young has been lobstering all his life. He started at the age of 18.
“That’s just what you do on Vinalhaven,” said Young. “Everybody does it. I’ve been lobstering 26 years.”
Young had a friend who smoked lobster and in 2005 his wife bought him a smoker for Christmas. He’s been doing it ever since.
His company, Vinalhaven Smoked Lobster, at 7 Tolman Road, provides hickory and cherry smoked products. There are spreads, tidbits (bite sized pieces of lobster), and a whole smoked lobster. The lobster meat has been picked from the shell.
Young said to get started they had to do a cold spot-test on the smoker.
“We found the cold spot on the bottom rack,” he said. “Now every time we smoke, we have to take three pieces of meat from the bottom rack and record those temperatures on each smoker because we have two. We’re putting in a new exhaust system this year and then we’ll add a third smoker.”
Young loves to lobster, he loves smoking them; but, there is product testing to deal with, ingredients lists, and packaging for the product and for shipping.
Kristie said Robert will take home the lobsters that day and the next day they’ll be in a smoker. It happens that fast and it’s that fresh.
“The lobsters get steamed first and the meat picked out,” said Robert. “We cut the meat and it goes into a brine solution we make and sits there until the next day when we will smoke it. It needs to sit in the brine to give it the salt content to preserve it.”
Young would not divulge the smoking temperature or time spent in the smoker calling it proprietary information. He did say once the lobster is smoked it needs to sit in oil overnight.
“The oil brings out the flavor more,” he said. “If you try a piece of lobster right out of the smoker and then try a piece after it sits in the oil overnight, it is two totally different flavors. We use safflower oil. It’s clear when the lobster goes in and will turn red after soaking.”
Young said for the cherry wood flavor overnight will do it, but for the hickory he likes to let it sit a couple of days.
On a side note: I was personally intrigued by the oil and its delicious, intense flavor. I immediately thought it would be perfect on salads, and for flavoring soups and dishes. Young said he had been told that about the oil, but has no plans to market it.
“We had a blogger in California,” said Young. “She mentioned that she used the oil in scrambled eggs. When we make the spreads we strain all the oil off the lobster and just throw it away, so yeah, we could use the oil. I’ve thought about it. People seem to think it would sell well, but I have no plans right now for it.”
Young said they do two Farmer’s Markets right now.
“We do the Farmer’s Market on Vinalhaven and we sell more whole lobsters,” he said. “We do the Farmer’s Market in Rockland and we sell more spread. It’s not a cheap product. Some people say we charge too much and others say we don’t charge enough.”
Young said the sample packet of two smoked lobster chunks and two spreads sells for $36.50.
“It’s funny because some people will spend $18/$20 on a lobster roll,” he said. “It’s just picked lobster and some mayonnaise on a bun and it’s gone. An eight-ounce jar of our lobster sells for $31.50 and they say that’s too much.”
Young said his products carry a shelf life of 30 days.
“We send our stuff to the University of Maine for testing and Northeast Labs in Westbrook has done all of our shelf life testing,” he said. “it’s not terribly expensive and currently our shelf life testing is being redone.”
Young said the 30 day shelf life was established three years ago.
“Over the years people have said that’s just to short,” he said. “Right now the new round of shelf life testing started in February ad each product has gone past two months. They’ll be tested until they fail, so we’ll get a longer shelf life.”
Besides the sample pack, each product can come in an eight ounce and a 16 ounce package.
Young said he has considered branching out and smoking mussels, clams, and making a crab spread.
“It’s just the two of us doing the work right now,” he said. “I may have some wholesale orders coming up and if that happens we’ll need to hire a couple of people. Maybe then we can consider other items.”
Young said Bow Street Market in Freeport, The Town landings in Falmouth and Mike’s Seafood Market in Wells will start carrying the products in May.