How Anster cheese become one of the Fife’s headline food acts
One of Scotland's artisan cheeses
‘Right from the start, cheese seemed an obvious option. There was nobody else in Fife making cheese from their own milk on the farm; there seemed to be public demand for, and interest in, locally produced food; and last, but not least, we love cheese.’
As Jane Stewart of Falside Farm on the gentle grassy acres rising up above Anstruther indicates, traditional artisan cheese is a very contemporary option. With family-sized dairy farming becoming a tenuous occupation, Stewart took her first steps in making cheese on a course at Reading University and was mentored by a retiring Welsh cheesemaker, Leon Downey. A brand new cheese dairy, complete with viewing gallery, and attached coffee shop, was constructed beside Falside farmhouse in 2007 and the first cheeses were sold in 2008.
With no particular local traditions to draw upon, Stewart developed her cheese with similarities to the farmhouse cheeses of south-west England that had inspired her as she learned the cheesemakers’ art. The company also decided just to concentrate initially on a single style, a pressed hard cheese with a creamy white colour, a slightly crumbly texture, a citrusy freshness and a full-flavoured finish. The milk used is unpasteurised, from husband Robert’s herd of Holstein Friesian cows, and the cheese-making process is essentially traditional, with cast-iron presses wound down in stages. The cheese can be eaten as young as eight weeks, probably finds its optimum maturity at four to six months, but also has adherents of the flavour when it’s aged for ten or more months. The name, Anster (pronounced ‘Ain-ster’) is the locals’ colloquial shortening of Anstruther.
Local baker GH Barnett now makes a cheese oatcake with Anster, it’s used in cheese scones served at the farm and it has found favour quite extensively across Scotland, notably in branches of IJ Mellis Cheesemongers. More cheeses will follow: there’s now a red version of the standard Anster, flavoured with garlic and herbs, and other styles are being planned.