Made in Portugal

Local producers take canned fish to a new level

Canned fish became fashionable a few years ago with gourmet cafés and shops popping up all over Portugal, with some only supplying canned fish products and creating inventive ways of serving them.

To reflect its rising popularity, an artisanal “canned fish” production facility opened in July of this year. Saboreal is the brainchild of three entrepreneurs with the collective vision of keeping everything as fresh, sustainable, handmade and local as possible.

Vincent Jonckheere, 34, a Belgian professor of hospitality economy, Manuel Mendes, 30, a pharmacist and André Teixeira, 28 a fishing vessel owner, both Portuguese, formed their company and began looking for suitable premises. After much deliberation, they found the ideal site in Parchal, not far from the old Portimão bridge. It was a logical choice, as sardines and mackerel arrive directly from the fishermen’s boats into the production facility, guaranteeing the freshest possible product.

The majority of the ingredients used in production are sourced within a 20-30 kilometer radius of the Parchal factory. Garlic, carrots, lemons, onions, olives, almonds, coriander, dried tomatoes and sea salt are prepared on site ready for “canning day” and stored in the refrigeration area until required.

Vincent explained “We are effectively a three-man operation. We select the fish ourselves, clean and prepare them in our purpose-built facility – where we ensure that each fish passes our quality control a second time – before preparing them in a special Portuguese-built oven, which rapidly cooks the fish while maintaining the flavour, colour and texture. Then we fillet each fish by hand to make a batch of Tapas.”

The recipes were conceived after months of testing, experimentation and market research. The results are natural and flavoursome – the very essence of the Algarve.

The trio decided to use glass containers, Manuel Mendes told us “the jars lend themselves to a handmade image, which is vital to convey. Cans also need much greater industrialisation and a higher volume of fish, which is not our goal. Our line handles less than 100 kilograms of fish a day and that just wouldn’t warrant acquiring the machinery to make the cans”.

Andre adds, “it’s important to the consumer to be able to see the quality of the product that they are buying”.

The glass jars are sterilised in a large cleaning vat in the preparation zone where there is a small window of time to fill each of the jars by hand with the fresh fish mixture. The sterilisation process, called “autoclaving”, creates a vacuum seal inside the glass jars, enabling the contents to have a shelf life of around three years. Once the caps have been fitted, the labels are affixed to the jars by hand, packed and ready for distribution.

Saboreal currently produce three varieties of fish tapas, sardines with sun-dried tomatoes, mackerel with almonds and green olives, and horse mackerel with carrot and coriander, which are available in small jars. Whole fillets of sardines, mackerel or horse mackerel preserved in extra virgin olive oil are on sale in larger jars.

An animated Vincent exclaimed, “We believe in handmade products. Working with our hands enables us to produce a product with a unique flavour and quality. We place great value in using the skills of man rather than heavy machinery. We are firm advocates of local and sustainable products. To make good products we need good ingredients, so we use local producers to get them.”

The operation runs like a well-oiled machine with the drive and determination of each of the three owners evident at every stage of the process. They are passionate and focused on pushing their venture onwards and upwards with talk of expanding into tuna part of their plans for the future.

Saboreal Tapas are available from carefully selected retailers in the local area, Earth Shop & Cafe in Carvoeiro, Da Nossa Terra em Alvor Casa Grande in Ferragudo and Maria do Mar in Portimao.


Find them on Facebook: ConserveiraSaboreal


Author: Inside Carvoeiro

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