Visiting the oldest salmon smokehouse in Switzerland

Visiting the oldest salmon smokehouse in Switzerland

On the trail of a rare and delicate craft

Ivo is a perfectionist. He not only wants to buy the right food but also understand how it is processed. This is particularly important when it comes to key ingredients such as salmon and is why he decided to travel to the canton of Solothurn – home to the Dyhrberg salmon smokehouse, which is known for its exceptional quality. Not only can its products can be found on Coop's cold shelves under the Fine Food label, but Switzerland's top chefs also swear by the salmon from this house.

Ivo Adam is one of Switzerland's most famous Michelin-star chefs and his name is synonymous with culinary variety. Sometimes it's the classic dishes that particularly capture Ivo's imagination. Canapés with salmon, for instance – savoury, fresh and dainty snacks prepared in a sophisticated manner. The smoked salmon can be served simply on small slices of bread, or given a whole new culinary twist by adding a touch of finesse. As the fish is the key ingredient in these dishes, there are two crucial requirements – exceptional quality and careful processing in the smokehouse.

The Dyhrberg smokehouse is located in Klus-Balsthal, right at the foot of the impressive Alt-Falkenstein castle, which is perched on a cliff just like an eagle's nest. Time seems to pass a little more slowly here than in Berne, where Ivo lives. As he arrives, the morning mist is still clinging to the rocks and pine trees, creating an almost mystical atmosphere. This immediately vanishes at the entrance to the smokehouse. Ivo is met at the door by the friendly operations manager, Marcel, who guides him through the modern, clean building and straight to the factory hall.

Hygiene sluices

Before entering the workrooms, the employees – and Ivo – must don special protective clothing comprising a rubber apron, galoshes, gloves and a cap. They then pass through the hygiene sluices. This is essential if the food and work equipment are to remain totally clean. The air in the workrooms is fresh and cool. Surprisingly, the smell of fish can barely be detected. The incoming salmon awaits processing in cool boxes.

The first step involves cutting open the salmon. This is a quick procedure but requires a lot of experience. Cevdet Kurt demonstrates how this is done. Using a knife, he feels for the resistance and skilfully separates each fish into two halves. The tail fin and head are removed during this step. The fillet halves are then salted and placed on top of each other. At this stage, the salmon at Dyhrberg is left to cure for 2-3 days at 2°C, before being gently desalted in water.


The time factor in this process is a key indicator of a good salmon smokehouse. 80% of the salmon on the Swiss market is industrially processed, whereby the fish skin is perforated and the salt is injected into the fish. This accelerates the desalting process considerably. However, quality falls by the wayside.

Next comes the critical step – smoking. The traces of soot around the black oven doors are in contrast to the otherwise immaculate appearance of this smokehouse. The  sight conjures up feelings of nostalgia – it's no wonder the traditional wood smoking ovens are the house's pride and joy. Here the fish is refined purely by natural smoke from oak and beech wood. Cevdet shows Ivo how the smouldering wood chips are topped up once a day.

Thermometer? No chance!

The cured fish is hung behind the black metal doors and smoked cold (below 30°C) or hot (up to 80°C) before being left to cool in the warehouse for at least one night. Thermometer? No chance! The experienced master smoker demonstrates his knowledge and experience here, too.

No chance of any shortcomings

This is not the end of the process, however. In the next step, the smoked fish is filleted further. Ivo meets a well-practised, cheerful group of employees who are working together around a large table. Merita Osmani has many years' experience and can complete the more complex elements of her craft practically blindfolded. She shows Ivo just how complicated it is to fillet the fish to perfection.

Once again, any undesirable residual fat and tiny blood spots are removed – these smallest of quality defects only become visible during the drying process after smoking and would barely be noticeable to the untrained eye. When it comes to removing the very fine bones, there is no margin for error. The salmon is then skinned, leaving behind the premium product that is sought after in all the top kitchens.

Back in Zermatt

Finally, the salmon is painstakingly cut into thin slices and weighed. This step also requires great diligence as the final hundred-gram units must be accurately measured to within 4 percent. Providing everything is as it should be, the bags are vacuum-packed and packaged up.

Back in Zermatt, Ivo sets about creating a recipe for a smoked salmon dish. Newly inspired by the salmon smokehouse and the upcoming asparagus season, he comes up with an exciting flavour combination: horseradish and asparagus quiche with smoked salmon and dill sauce.

Links to more information on Ivo Adam:

Fine Food

Top-quality ingredients are essential for Ivo Adam. That is why he is also an ambassador for the Coop Fine Food label, which offers high-quality products for everyday use.

Ivo Adam
Ivo Adam
A culinary multi-talent – with big plans

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