A guide to the best food in the Cairngorms
What’s grown, reared, made and caught in the Cairngorms region of Scotland
Looking for a taste of the Cairngorms National Park? This round-up by Jay Thundercliffe introduces you to what’s grown, reared, made and caught in the region
Fruit And Veg
With a diminshed growing season due to the altitude and very little arable land, the Cairngorms National Park will never suffer a glut of fresh fruit and vegetables but there are a few outlets to get your locally grown greengroceries.
The Farm Garden at Dinnet offers a box scheme, while Alvie Gardens is responsible for tonnes of summer berries, which grace many local dining tables – and also go into Petrolini ice-cream. Gillian Gordon, behind Achnahannet Farm Produce at Dulnain Bridge, sells seasonal fruit and veg plus home-made preserves.
Others bottling their own creations include Mountain Café, with various preserves and sauces at the café’s deli section, while spicy Essential Sauces are attracting plaudits. Strathspey Mushrooms have grown from commercial mushroom supplier to deli-item provider.
Of course, in the Cairngorms there’s plenty of fruit and veg to be had by simply putting on some boots, grabbing a basket and a guidebook, and heading out into the extensive woods for all manner of wild mushrooms, berries and plants
Beef, lamb, game and other meat
Rearing livestock is what almost every farm in the Cairngorms does, producing some of the best-quality meat available in Scotland. Most beef and lamb from local butchers or eaten out, comes from farms or estates within the Park – in fact many animals never leave the Park boundary thanks to local slaughterhouse and renowned supplier Millers of Speyside at Grantown-on-Spey.
Balliefurth Farm, Wild Farm and Rothiemurchus Estate all offer top-quality beef or lamb, whether from traditional Highland cattle or rare-breed Belted Galloways or Soay sheep. George Gow, Kingussie’s popular butcher, stocks lamb from his own farm.
The iconic image of the Cairngorms is of deer roaming wild on the hills. Careful land management and expert handling by estates means the local venison is of world-class standard. Butchers across the region obtain their venison from local estates such as Mar Lodge, Balmoral, Glen Tanar and Invercauld among many others, while Rothiemurchus and Alvie estates sell their renowned meat themselves.
Wild Farm also sell their venison, along with wild boar meat. Other rare-breed pork suppliers include Cairngorm Pork who sell various cuts, sausages and pork boxes, and offer an ‘adopt a pig’ scheme with monthly instalments.
Much of the small game from the hills, including grouse, pheasant, partridge and the rare mountain hare, ends up at local butchers or going to chefs via small local dealers.
The hills have filled the Cairngorms valleys with fresh mountain streams and rivers that teem with salmon and trout. Much of the fun is in the catching and fishermen enjoy rich rewards on the Spey and Dee rivers. Many restaurants serve local fish, or customers can buy from farm shops such as Rothiemurchus for excellent trout, smoked over old whisky barrel chippings, from the estates’s fishery. Other smokers include commercial Spey Valley Smokehouse near Grantown and, on a smaller scale, Wild Farm with their small smokehouse built to a traditional Sami design.
Bread, cakes and chocolate
Artisan baking, where even the flour is ground in-house, is available at Blair Atholl Watermill, and its lovely tearoom, or try award-winning Doug Cookson’s Crannach Bakery in Cambus O’May, also with coffeeshop.
The many delectable cakes at The Potting Shed Tearooms at Inshriach Nursery and Kingussie can be ordered whole in advance. Chocolate fans will be tempted by Truffolicious, launched from an Aviemore kitchen in 2012, while for those with a traditional sweet tooth, Dee Valley Confectioners make soor plooms, humbugs and tablet in Ballater.
Cheese-making in the Park took a turn for the better when the award-winning Cambus O’May Cheese Co moved within its boundary to their Deeside creamery where visitors can watch them hand-crafting their cheeses from unpasteurised milk.
Also doing good things with milk is Petrolini Ices. Owner Gianni churns up a variety of ice-cream flavours from vanilla and mint to toffee and strawberry – using Alvie Gardens’ strawberries and other soft fruit in season.
Whisky, beer and other drinks
No other area of Scotland offer sthe wealth of whisky available on Speyside, the southern section of which is found in the National Park. The mighty Glenlivet, one of the best-selling whiskies in the world, has an excellent visitor centre at its distillery near the northern boundary of the Park. Glenlivet is the most southerly on the official Malt Whisky Trail and it’s also a notable waypoint on the spur of the Speyside Way long-distance footpath that ascends to the village of Tomintoul. The distillery by Tomintoul is one of the country’s youngest, while another distillery at an elevated altitude is, Dalwhinnie, one of the six Classic Malts and a distinctive landmark just off the A9 between Perth and Inverness.
It’s not all about the Spey area, with Deeside also offering a regal dram and tour at Royal Lochnagar, close to Balmoral and favoured tipple of Queen Victoria. Of course, sensible drinking demands plenty of water, and with no shortage in the Park it makes sense to bottle and sell it as Deeside Water have done from their base in Ballater.
Beyond the ever-popular whisky, there are other drinks to enjoy that are produced in the Park. Caorunn Gin, made at the Balmenach distillery, is a popular and premium spirit infused with local botanicals, which is at the forefront of the current gin renaissance. There are award-winning craft beers from Cairngorm Brewery, while Stag’s Breath Liqueur, made by family business Meikles of Scotland in Newtonmore, is a fairly mellow (19.8% abv) blend of Speyside whiskies with fermented heather honey.