Best of 2015: Scottish food and drink
The best food and drink to rise to prominence during Scotland’s Year of Food & Drink
The range of products in Scotland’s national larder becomes more diverse and enterprising as each year passes. It’s a sign that the various strands of our reawakening food and drink culture are converging: a growing awareness of the possibilities of local food and drink, the viability of small businesses with a good product and a smart marketing eye, the support of local produce by more and more bars, cafés and restaurants and the encouragement of public bodies (not least Scotland Food & Drink, the group who have driven this past Year of Food & Drink). Above all, however, it’s a sign of confidence that the food and drink we grow, brew and make is at least the equal of what’s made elsewhere; that just as we can shake off a cultural cringe, we have the ingredients to shake off the culinary cringe too. So, as a way of concluding the year, we’ve picked out half a dozen products that have caught our eye as examples of the best of the country’s new food and drink.
Plan Bee’s Honey Beer
Together with Beehive Brae, these guys launched their honey beer in April, just before the bees got busy for the summer. The honey from their sustainable hives across the country gives the beer a smooth texture and light, floral taste; but that wasn’t their only aim. Plan Bee was created for the betterment of bees, so every bottle they sell goes towards protecting the decreasing honeybee populations. Although the craft beer thing has been more apparent this year than ever and yes, there are other honey beers, we still think this stuff is the bee’s knees. Plus, Plan Bee’s other innovative honey products have also been given recognition; in particular their Elderflower & Rose Mead which won the Best Product Award at Scotland’s Speciality Food Show, edging one of the oldest alcoholic drinks back into fashion.
Tonic Water – to go with all that gin
It’s been hard not to notice the surge in new gin distillations all across Scotland this year-- we’ll mention Isle of Harris, Rockrose and Porter’s in passing, but they’re by no means the only ones. With so many newbies, Summerhouse drinks cleverly filled that obvious gap in the market, offering a small batch of Scottish-made tonic water to make the ultimate Scottish G&T. OK, the sugar and the quinine ain’t home-grown, but it’s not as if the ingredients of whisky, beer, gin or any other so-called ‘national drinks’ are 100% local: malted barley, hops, juniper and sugar are all imported in greater and lesser degrees. Walter Gregor’s Tonic is an addition to Summerhouse’s already popular collection of soft drinks made using natural ingredients on their family’s farm near Peathill. And keep in mind, if McG & McT just isn’t your tipple, there are other local drinks – soft and hard – for you to crack open.
Hebridean Food Company
Scotland’s beef and lamb carries a well-established reputation, not least when it’s held up as a product of the country’s clean, green, rough and tough landscape. Douglas Stewart from North Uist graduated from the Scottish Agricultural College with an inkling to set up a business making the distinctive beef, lamb and shellfish of the Outer Hebrides available to a wider UK market. His Hebridean Food Company launched its website and countrywide delivery service in 2015, providing an opportunity to sample blackface lamb and pedigree Highland beef that migrates between the machair grasslands of the uninhabited tidal island of Vallay and the heather grazing of North Uist. It’s an emblematic example of a traditional, low-impact, semi-wild system of stock management that’s unique to its Hebridean location and apparent in the cooking and eating qualities of the meat.
Cream o’ Galloway Cheese
While cheesemaking in Scotland has its adventurous side – there’s even some halloumi happening – there is also a lot of respect paid among the nation’s small band of cheesemakers to traditional methods. This year Dunlop Cheese finally gained recognition as a protected PGI product, acknowledging the important heritage of farmhouse cheesemaking in an era where dairy farming struggles for viability even in its Scottish heartlands of southwest Scotland. So it’s been heartening to see the progress made by Wilma Finlay and Sarah Haworth at Cream o’ Galloway, better known for its ice-cream and go-karting, in delving back to the styles of cheeses made on their own farm up to the 1970s. Look out for Carrick, a hard cheese that has already picked up a couple of admiring awards, Laganory and a new blue cheese that’s in its final stages of preparation for the market.
Curing our charcuterie miles
In Scotland many of us are pretty fond of European charcuterie, and we make short work of sharing boards piled high with the stuff. However, this year has confirmed that we need not look so far afield for our cured meats, as a focus has turned to locally produced charcuterie. We’ve seen Hammond’s crowdfunding campaign taking off to enable their move to a larger site, whilst organic charcutiers at Peelham Farm and Highlanders Great Glen Game have been picking up awards for their Scottish take on cured meats. Joining in are Highland Wagyu, with Scotland’s first-ever Wagyu salami, bresaola and pastrami. Made by breeders of the extremely well pampered Wangus (that’s Wagyu crossed with Aberdeen Angus), the famously marbled cuts of beef give a rich flavour and a delicate texture. Sure it may be pricey, but hey, that’s what comes with food where the principal additives are time, care and quality.
And for dessert …
Late July saw the launch of Scotland’s Ice-Cream Trail, a map with parlours dotted along the coastline and further inland, giving you the chance to grab a cone wherever you are in the country, whatever the weather. The classic vanilla is always a crowd-pleaser, but offering something pleasantly unusual are Stew ‘n’ Drew in Hopeman, Moray. Wanting to give something back to the locals, the ambitious duo took inspiration from Butteries (or Rowies), that breakfasty-brunchy staple of the north east, and turned it into ice-cream. Wowie Rowie is one of many flavours that these two have concocted, along with wasabi and cask-strength whisky, plus a few more conventional options, including strawberry and espresso. Equally enterprising is the Crema Caravan, a street food sensation at several events throughout the UK, serving up their crème brûlées, ‘burnt to order’ from a hatch in their their retro truck called Florence.