Imladris Farm’s Smoked Ketchup Highlights Regional Collaboration

ketchupWHILE ASHEVILLE’S IMLADRIS FARM jams and preserves have long been something to rave about, they’ve recently transitioned their business model to expand beyond their traditional flavors into select seasonal offerings. Their Smoked Ketchup is a product of that transition. The ketchup utilizes tomatoes sourced from Wilson Family Farms smoked in the Hickory Nut Gap Farm’s smoker before being cooked and processed in the Imladris Farm’s kitchen.
Imladris’s expansion of product offerings emerged as they moved from their origins as a farm selling jams created from their own fruit to sourcing fruits and vegetables from other local growers. Owner Walter Harrill notes, “I’ve realized that my role is to focus on products made from local fruit, but not necessarily grown by me, with the farm as one of several steady suppliers for our products.”
This new outlook gave Harrill a wider bounty of produce within WNC as a source of inspiration for new culinary treats. The initial efforts took advantage of regional offerings of grapes and strawberries before flirting with the margins of their existing product line with a seasonal pumpkin butter. The drive to take advantage of regional fruits eventually lead Harrill to consider WNC’s abundant tomato crop as an element which could be incorporated into a unique, regional product.
After witnessing the success that Kelly Davis, founder of Lusty Monk Mustards, had experienced with condiments, Harrill began to consider his own possibilities. Harrill notes, “Who’d a thunk you could make a living off of condiments? She did it, she did it with style and flair, and I’m a shameless idea thief.” Harrill also cites Charles Hudson and Sunburst Trout Farm’s smoked tomato jam as being instrumental in his creative thinking process.
Struck with the powerful flavor combination, Harrill began working toward ketchup. He speaks highly of the support that he’s received from both Davis and Hudson explaining the value of their assistance in his efforts to revamp his business model.
Harrill is generous in articulating the role that others have played in bringing the smoked ketchup to market. Among those aiding in the development of the ketchup he list his kitchen staff, each graduates from the A-B Tech Culinary Arts program. In particular, he highlights the role that Kim Walton plays in bringing products to fruition. Walton is responsible for taking Harrill’s vague descriptions of tastes he’s pursuing and creating a product that achieves both Harrill’s goals and consumer appeal.
Imladris-JamA longstanding relationship with Amy and Jamie Ager of Hickory Nut Gap Farm allowed Harrill to advance beyond the primitive oil drum pig cooker that he was prototyping for his smoking process. Using Hickory Nut Gap Farm’s in-house smoker allowed him to clear food safety regulation hurdles and provided a far more practical means of production beyond his small-scale experiments.
Wilson Family Farm, a staple of the Fairview farming community, served as a natural partner given that they produce a large quantity of the main ingredient within close proximity to both Imladris Farms and Hickory Nut Gap Farm. Harrill underscores the importance of relationships with farms through creating a sales channel that pays fair prices even for produce that might be cosmetically unsuitable for retail sale. When it comes to sourcing, Harrill is focused on the quality of the flavors, “We’re able to work with local growers in a way that empowers them to go get top dollar for their best quality product, while knowing that we will take product that didn’t sell, fruit that got damaged by hail storms, etc.”
Imladris has enjoyed a warm response to the smoked ketchup and plans to broaden the market as they move into the future. Given the similarities that the smoked ketchup has with their existing jams and preserves, Harrill finds that it meshes well with both the existing production model and product line.
Harrill notes that Imladris is adding other flavors on a seasonal level. While he’s unsure of what they may venture into next, he’s excited about branching out. Harrill is democratic about his approach to new flavors saying, “The ketchup is the only one of the new flavors presently slated to stay on the year round product list, though I’m always open to folks’ input.”
The term ketchup undersells Imladris’s take on the staple condiment, which packs a flavorful punch while relying on simplistic ingredients like tomatoes, onions, cider vinegar, cinnamon, and garlic rather than chemical concoctions. The flavor and texture of the smoked ketchup is positioned somewhere between tomato gravy, apple butter, and conventional ketchup. The nuance and subtlety it brings provides a clear accent to foods rather than the standard overwhelmingly sweet acidity.
At the moment, Imladris’ Smoked Ketchup is available at a handful of small local purveyors due to its artisanal nature. You can buy the ketchup direct from Imladris at the North Asheville Tailgate Market, their street cart on Wall Street most weekend mornings, or on their website (imladrisfarm.com). It’s also available at Merry Wine Market in Black Mountain, the Hickory Nut Gap Farm store, Asheville Direct, Mother Earth Produce, & The Chop Shop.