A brief history of Ayrshire's Dunlop cheese

  • The Larder
  • 17 September 2010
A brief history of Ayrshire's Dunlop cheese

Scotland’s equivalent of Cheddar is enjoying a revival thanks to a number of artisan makers. Jackie Hunter looks at the story of Ayrshire’s Dunlop.

Scotland doesn’t produce many hard cheese varieties, but Dunlop is one that dates back to the 17th century, when farmer’s wife Barbara Gilmour pioneered a process using unskimmed – or ‘sweet’ – milk from the Ayrshire cows at Hill Farm. Her method produced a distinctly creamy texture and mellow, nutty taste and was so widely copied that Dunlop soon became Scotland’s equivalent of cheddar. It all but vanished in the mid 20th century owing to dairy-industry consolidation, but a quiet revival began two decades ago and is now blossoming as farmhouse cheeses, rather than mass-produced varieties, become increasingly sought after.

‘We moved here in 1985 and opened up the dairy,’ says Ann Dorward, of West Clerkland Farm in Ayrshire. ‘Because we’re only a mile from Dunlop village, it seemed obvious that Dunlop cheese was what we should make.’ Although she follows the Gilmour method there is no actual recipe in existence, Ann points out. ‘The cheese’s characteristics depend purely on the grasslands where the cattle graze, the local climate and the weather. The area is what makes it unique and that’s why we applied for PDO [Protected Destination of Origin] status four years ago. If it’s ever granted we’ll have to give our cheese a new name, because Dunlop has become a generic term – it can be made anywhere.’ The Dorwards are presently the only Dunlop producers in Ayrshire, so a PDO status now would be theirs alone.

Pam Rodway and her husband Nick have been making Dunlop farther north, on their Moray farm, since 1997 (but this year have retired from cheesemaking). They always used Ayrshire cows, however, ‘because they’re synonymous with Dunlop, produce high-quality milk with small fat globules, respond well to organic husbandry and are healthy, hardy creatures that can spend long periods outdoors,’ Pam says. The result? ‘Similar to cheddar, but less acidic, not as strong-tasting.’

A much newer Dunlop producer is Connage Highland Dairy near Inverness. The farm has belonged to the Clark family for 60 years and converted to organic production in 1996, when brothers Callum and Cameron Clark built a high-spec dairy and began making cheese. ‘Dunlop was one of our original cheeses,’ says Jill Clark. ‘It’s a higher-moisture cheese, matured for five to seven months – about half the time of a cheddar – and mellow, but with a little kick at the end. It’s very popular, probably because cheese-lovers are looking for good alternatives to what’s widely available. There are currently more than 800 British cheeses – Dunlop is just a bit different.’

Connage Highland Dairy

Milton of Connage, Ardersier, Inverness, Highland, IV2 7QU