Smoking, with sheep shit?! By Matt Campbell

The  Staff Canteen

We are pleased to welcome, MasterChef: The Professionals 2017 contestant Matt Campbell to The Staff Canteen blogger family this month.

He is introducing us to dirt smoking, a traditional technique he discovered in Iceland. He wants to highlight using this waste product especially as he comes from the Lake District where they have millions of Herdwick sheep and as a result plenty of dung!

The Facts!

  • More than 2 billion people across the planet burn dried animal dung for energy.
  • "Dung cakes" - Cow/buffalo dung used as a common fuel source for cooking in India.
  • Commercial fertiliser, used for crops across the world.
  • Fenrir nr:26 award winning IPA from Iceland - Using malt smoked with sheep dung.
  • Peat which is dried decayed vegetation and organic matter, is used to smoke barley and give Whiskey its sought after smokiness. Used in Scotland.
  • Yak dung, commonly used in Tibet.

Okay, so rumour has it there is some guy cooking with sheep dung on national television.. 

compression block
Matt's compression block


As unbelievable as this might sound to the Great British public, there is method in this madness. When I was working in Iceland, at the countries 1st ever restaurant to be awarded a Michelin star, DILL Restaurant I came across a popular and traditional technique called "dirt smoking".

In Iceland, when you hear a food described as having been dirt smoked, it usually means the source of the smoke was a dried block of compressed hay and sheep manure.

The technique like most, stems from necessity. Iceland is a truly wonderful country blessed with many attributes, but unfortunately not many trees. Smoking is an ancient preservation technique that goes back thousands of years.

matt quoteSo the story goes, as the cold, harsh, winters drew in, so did the Icelandic sheep to their respective barns for the season. Here they would rest, with nothing to do but feast on hay and compress it down when it had passed through their systems. As spring returned, they were allowed to return to the pastures and explore the terroir.

The farmers would then go about "excavating" the compressed hay and manure, drying it out in the Icelandic sunshine and then using it to smoke most traditionally Arctic Char and Lamb for a Christmas delicacy.

The thing that caught my attention first when I tried "Shit smoked Artic Char" was the flavour. I was asking what combination of woods they used to achieve such an interesting taste. When I heard they were actually using a waste product and not burning any trees at all. I was instantly convinced.

I come from the Lake District, home of the Herdwick sheep. We have millions of them. Which means we also have a lot of sheep dung. I wanted to shed light on this technique. Naturally it is quite a hard concept to get your head around at first but if people are able to overcome their misgivings about eating manure smoked foods, the reward is flavour packed with a regions terroir. Its flowers, grasses and grains are all there for those brave enough to accept the tradition.

So when I returned home, I did what any inquisitive/inspired chef would do, I took to the fells, foraged for the perfect sheep dung (not to hard, not too wet!) bought a bag of flower meadow hay then combined the 2 at a ratio of 2:3 (40% dung, 60% hay) and then dehydrated to create my own compression block. 

It's been almost 18 months since I first discovered this technique and although I have not experimented with any other form of manure its frequently coming to my attention where it's being used elsewhere in the world.

matt bio pic
Matt Campbell

Who is Matt Campbell?

Matt is a 28 year old private chef from the Lake District.  During his culinary career he has been lucky enough to work in some of Europe's top Michelin star kitchens, private villas and award winning luxury ski chalets. Having as much fun as he could along the way. He entered BBC Masterchef: the Professionals in 2017. The competition turned out to be the perfect platform for him to showcase his unique training and experiences. He combined his two passions for nutrition and gastronomy, with Marcus Wareing describing his signature dish of "Cod Cheeks, Spirulina, Kale & Kombucha" as the best he's ever tasted on Masterchef. 

Follow Matt on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook:

Dates for Matt's forthcoming UK Roadshow:

LONDON - March 14th, 15th, 16th at CitizenM “CloudM” Tower Hill, London
Featuring Matt’s best dishes from MasterChef including his signature dish, Cod Cheeks, Spirulina, Kale & Kombucha and his vegan dessert: Raw Cacao, Jerusalem artichokes, nuts & caramel. And also his critics’ round soufflé - Caramelised Miso Soufflé, Kefir Sorbet. All served amidst the spectacular surroundings of CloudM overlooking the Tower of London, the Cheesegrater, The Shard and Tower Bridge.
5 courses £75 per person
Tickets are available now at eventbrite

MANCHESTER - APRIL 4th, 5th at Real Junk Food, Manchester
A four-course dinner using ‘intercepted foods’ in line with the Real Junk Food ethos whilst asking guests to "Pay what you feel". Matt will be cooking with ingredients that would otherwise be wasted and given his signature healthy makeover.
4 courses ‘Pay what you feel’.
Tickets will be available shortly from

BRISTOL – May 2nd, 3rd at Box E, Bristol
A six-course vegan meal including Matt’s acclaimed vegan dessert and dishes developed during his participation in Veganuary. Box E is housed in a couple of shipping containers in Wapping Wharf Cargo 1.
6 courses £40 per person
Tickets will be available shortly from

LEEDS – May 25th, 26th King St Social of no fixed abode.
£60 - 6 courses including snacks. Matt will be showcasing his "Nutritional Gastronomy" style.
6 courses £60 per person
Tickets and venue details will be available shortly from

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 21st February 2018

Smoking, with sheep shit?! By Matt Campbell