The best food in Scotland's North Highlands
What’s grown, reared, made and landed in the North Highland region of Scotland
Looking to discover a taste of the North Highlands? This round-up by Claire Ritchie and Donald Reid introduces you to what’s grown, reared, made and landed in the region
Fruit & Veg
Farm shops and gate sales are commonplace throughout the region, with many farms and crofts selling fruit, vegetables, potatoes and preserves via honesty boxes. A number of farms also have popular shops, such as Puffin Croft Farm Shop and Tomich Farm Shop, while Storehouse of Foulis also incorporates a well-run and busy café. The region is blessed with bountiful soft fruits in the summer – look for Black Isle Berries, Caithness Summer Fruits and Knockrash Growers at local markets. Saladworx has made a huge success out of growing edible leaves, and the new Knockfarrel box scheme allows customers to personalise their own weekly delivery. Local farmers’ markets will commonly offer fruit and vegetables in season as well as locally made jams, preserves, chutneys and oils: look out for stalls from companies such as Bumblebee Kitchen Garden, Cullisse Highland Rapeseed Oil and Barracks Preserves. At Highland Wildwoods, shiitake mushrooms are grown by traditional methods on hardwood logs.
Beef, lamb, game and other meat
Many farms and crofts supply bulk meat orders to fill freezers, as well as attending at farmers’ markets. You can order a whole lamb from Highland Croft Produce, while Reidchalmai Croft and Caithness Pork sell their wares at farmers’ markets. Half lambs and half pigs, plus a variety of eggs, are available to buy direct from Easter Balmungie Farm. Bridleway Produce offers free-range pork from traditionally reared rare-breed pigs. Bogallan Beef sells cuts from prize-winning Highland cattle at local markets. Mey Selections beef and lamb are available to buy from Harrold Bros, Wick. Free-range, locally produced wild boar comes from Highland Wild Boar. Fresh (and some pickled) quail, duck, goose and turkey eggs are sold from Drumbhan Croft. Wild game can be found on restaurant menus across the North Highlands, with the Wild Game Company, Ardgay Game and Tarradale Game supplying much of it.
Vast quantities of the seafood landed in North Highland ports such as Scrabster, Lochinver and Kinlochbervie are either shipped directly to all parts of the UK and Europe, or processed locally before heading elsewhere. But there are a few fishmongers and other seafood specialists in the region where you can pick up locally landed catch, including creel-caught shellfish. Fish vans are still a feature in many towns and villages – ask locally for information on these – while most local farmers’ markets have a seafood stall. Fish and shellfish are big business in the north of Scotland, with the likes of Keltic Seafare, and the Freedom Food-approved Wester Ross Salmon and Loch Duart supplying top-end restaurants across Europe, while Alness-based Aquascot, who supply fish exclusively to Waitrose, and other fish processors, are important employers in the area.
Bread, cakes and chocolate
There’s a strong tradition of baking in the North Highlands, with Cromarty Bakery, Avoch Bakery and the wonderfully named A-Bun-Dance supplying local shops, restaurants and cafés with their daily bread. Ullapool Bakery produces a wide variety of baked goods, from spicy stem ginger shortbread and chilli cheese oatcakes, to ten-seed sourdough and tomato focaccia. Up in Thurso, Reids of Caithness has won a number of Gold Taste Awards for their shortbread. In Forss, Caithness Biscuits produce some fine shortbread and oatcakes. Handmade truffles are the order of the day at Caithness Chocolates in Wick and Cocoa Mountain in Durness, while Highland honey can be had from Brora Bees, Struan Apiaries and Skirza Horticultural Products.
Caithness Cheese produce a range of flavoured hard cheeses from their croft in Occumster, while Highland Fine Cheeses are the company behind some famous cheeses including Strathdon Blue. It’s not all about the cows up here, however: Bulno Goats in Dunbeath make a range of goats’ cheeses that can be found at local farmers’ markets.
Whisky, beer and other drinks
A handful of whisky distilleries take advantage of this rugged landscape and briny sea air to produce the sought-after spirit. There’s Glenmorangie, Dalmore, Teaninich and Balblair in Ross-shire, Clynelish in Sutherland, and Glen Ord, the only remaining single-malt distillery on the Black Isle. Old Pulteney has for a long time been the northernmost distillery on the Scottish mainland, although this mantle will soon be taken up by Wolfburn. When it comes to beers, the region punches above its weight in number and scale, with Black Isle Brewery, Cromarty Brewing Company and An Teallach Ale Company. On a different note, Berry Good produce fruit-infused vodka and gin.