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Meet the Makers: Max Blackman and Kyle Payne of Holy Smoke Olive Oil

Meet the Makers: Max Blackman and Kyle Payne of Holy Smoke Olive Oil
Written by Daniela Johnson

Simple, versatile ingredients that elevate dishes to the next level (with little effort) are invaluable tools for home cooks and chefs. Enter: Holy Smoke Smoked Olive Oil; a cold-smoked, extra-virgin olive oil made with 100-percent natural ingredients. This oil’s smoky, buttery, peppery flavor isn’t overwhelming, but it’s potent enough to enhance everything from veggies, meats, and pasta sauces to soups, salad dressings, and sauces—to name a few options. It’s also vegan and gluten-free.

The Charleston-based brand is owned by Max Blackman (“Operations Operator”) and Kyle Payne (“Executive Dishwasher”), two friends who met in the food and beverage industry. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say the business bloomed overnight. But its origins began in Payne’s kitchen years before Holy Smoke’s launch. While smoking sea salts one day, Payne experimented with a jug of olive oil, then shared his smoked creation with friends and family. They loved it, and after a few years of high demand, Payne decided to bottle and sell. But a problem arose: The Department of Agriculture told him his olive oil needed to be “cold-smoked” to keep its chemical composition. At a loss on how to execute, Payne lamented to Blackman about his dilemma over drinks. This inspired Blackman to find a solution. “I thought it was a fantastic idea, so I went home and put together a cold-smoking machine,” he says. “Then, boom! We became a business.”

Since their brand launched in 2012, the duo has released four additional products: Holy Smoke Hickory-Smoked Wildflower Honey, Holy Smoke Smoked Sea Salt, Holy Smoke Hickory-Smoked Black Pepper, and a Smoked Bloody Mary Mix. Two new products are slated for release this year.

Blackman tells us how the brand’s smoked goods have improved people’s cooking, particularly that of vegans and vegetarians. “Our products let them enjoy the smoky flavor of bacon or barbecue without any animal products,” explains Blackman. (Hence the brand’s slogan, “It’s like liquid bacon that’s good for you!”) This “bacon-y” scent lingers in the air during the smoking process, a perk to cold-smoking the oil themselves. “We come home smelling like bacon,” says Blackman. “It’s pretty much in our essence at this point.”

The smoking process is a simple one. “We fill our machine with olive oil, load it up with hickory wood, and let her rip for hours and hours,” says Blackman. The duo taste-tests the batch against previous ones to determine if the smokiness meets their standards. If it’s up to par, they bottle it. If not, back in the smoker it goes.

Payne and Blackman are proud to say they’ve turned the business into a full-time job over the last nine years, growing from their original booth at the Charleston Farmers Market to attaining national exposure. Yet despite the brand’s expansion and new smoked offerings, Blackman says their flagship product—smoked olive oil—is still his favorite. “I cook absolutely everything with it,” he says. “It makes my girlfriend think I know how to cook!”

Shop Holy Smoke Smoked Olive Oil on the Local Palate Marketplace here.

Holy Smoke’s Smokehouse Hummus

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