Will Studd journeys through the varied landscapes of Scotland – from the rugged Highlands to the lush and green Southern Uplands - to discover more about the revival of traditional cheese making in Scotland.
The Highlands – Crowdie and Caboc cheeses
The origins of traditional cheese in Scotland go back to Viking times, but the only example still made today is Crowdie. It was once made from skimmed cow’s milk left over from making butter. Originally, it was referred to as crofter’s or porridge cheese because it provided a very practical way of ensuring that nothing was wasted.
Originally, Crowdie was made by placing a fresh jug of skimmed milk beside the stove to sour and curdle. Because the milk is now pasteurised lactic acid is added to encourage coagulation. Then the curds are mashed, mixed with salt and then hung the traditional way in muslin bags, the traditional way.
Rory Stone of Highland Fine Foods, and his family run dairy have put Scottish cheeses back on the map by producing their own varieties of Crowdie and Caboc cheeses.
According to Stone, for The Highlands, cheese was simply viewed as preserved milk and originated from a desire for every household farm wanting to use and preserve all milk products. Farmers would skim the cream off the top and churn that into butter.
To make Crowdie traditional farmers would preserve the skim, which would naturally sour. By keeping it nice and warm, the natural lactobacillus culture in the milk would ferment and set. Next they would scramble it, scold it and mash it up, perhaps add some cream, add some salt and hang it up in muslin to produce Crowdie.
Caboc is a peculiar product, which can age up to 6-8 months, and was originally made on the Isle of Skye by the MacDonalds. Caboc is made using the mouldy cream which is pressed and matured to turn it into a traditional cheese. It is hung up in muslin bags and the resulting texture is creamy and silky. It is an oatmeal coated cheese and the recipe is rumoured to have been passed down from the daughter of a 15th Century MacDonald of the Isles.
The Stones now roll it in oatmeal which Will says is an “absolute inspiration”. His mother’s recreation of what is also referred to as ‘Chieftain’s Cheese’ has a rich, buttery texture and is like having an oatcake with cheese, without the oatcakes!
Mull Cheese, produced in the beautiful Isle of Mull
In the past decade artisan cheese making has resurfaced and Will Studd visits a modern example of Scottish cheese at the Connage Highland Dairy. He visits the stunning Isle of Mull, located on the north- west coast of Scotland to look at one of the country’s most respected cheeses.
Mull Cheese is adapted from a cheddar recipe and made from raw milk. The Reade family, who bought a small farm called Sgriob-Ruadh Farm, and twenty years later rebuilt the island’s only cheese dairy, are chiefly responsible for maintaining the production of this delicious cheese. They are committed lifestyle cheese makers and milk a small herd of cows, whose feed is supplemented by the spent husks from the whiskey distillery which provides a wild, yeasty flavour to the cheese.
The cheese is stirred in large vats to break the curd as the whey drains off. Salt is added to the curds and they are mixed until the texture is deemed to be perfect. Before hooping they are milled using a traditional peg mill. After standing into the hoops for 24 hours, the young cheeses are removed and trimmed around the edges. They are then submerged in a hot brine bath for two minutes before being wrapped in two layers of cheese cloth and smeared with lard. The cheese is matured for at least a year in the farm’s underground maturation cellars to produce a delicious savoury, moist and tangy cheese.
Dunlop Cheese from the village of Dunlop
Until the early 1700s most Scottish cheese was made from skimmed milk after butter making, and did not travel well. This changed when a cheese maker, Gilmore, settled in the village of Dunlop and began making a hard, whole milk cheese using the local Ayrshire breed of cow, which quickly developed a reputation for its delicious flavour. Milk from this breed of cow became renowned for producing quality cheese all across the British Isles.
Sadly one of the few dairies still making this famous cheese the old-fashioned way is the West Clerkland Farm. It has a slightly moister consistency to cheddar, because it is matured in wet and moist climatic conditions. Because of the demand for vegetarian cheeses, it is not covered in lard before maturation, but rather a vegetarian rennet is used, which is an original addition to the process.