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A S UPPL E ME NT TO 2013-14 Edition

Food & Drink from the Highlands & Islands


Great Glen Game venison salami with green peppercorns

An FFD guide to the region’s artisan & speciality producers


IncludES: Great Glen Game, Stag Bakeries, Uig Lodge, Hebridean Sea Salt & many more A supplement to Fine Food Digest 2013-14 Edition 1 PLUS: highlights of the 2013 Highlands & Islands Food & Drink Awards

Taste of Orkney

The Orkney Beef and Orkney Lamb we supply is ALL covered by the Orkney Protected Designation of Origin which states that it is “derived from cattle and sheep born, reared and slaughtered in Orkney. The distinctly different texture and flavour of Orkney Beef and Orkney Lamb is largely due to the topography, geology and climate of the Orkney Islands which imparts specific characteristics to the grass and herbage providing the main diet of the cattle and sheep.” We are also proud to be main suppliers of the rare and much sought-after North Ronaldsay Mutton, from Orkney’s famous seaweed-eating sheep Supplying quality PDO meat from focus on BusInEss Williamson’s of Kirkwall

illiamsons WORDS: David Delday PHOTOS: Orkney Media Group Selling quality Orkney produce is very much at the heart of one Kirkwall-based business’s success.


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Williamsons, in East Road, is clearly looking to the future at a time when its ranges of local beef, lamb and pork are continuing to prove popular across the county.

of big supermarket chains to Orkney around the same time, the business decided to get rid of the deep freezers and focus on its meat operations.

A supplement to Fine Food Digest

Despite many changes over the years, the butchers – which started trading in 1977 – remained in its original location. Prior to that, it had predominantly sold frozen foods, with meat only sold as a secondary product, from a small counter within the shop. With the emergence

Williamsons is now run by the second generation of the Flett family, with Ali Flett managing the business on a day-to-day basis, in partnership with his mother, Jean, who still takes an active role by working behind the counter in the shop. Jean formed the business with her husband, the late Stanley Flett, and Ali joined as a partner at the age of 19.

food and drink from the highlands & islands


Mick Whitworth, Editor


Brands like Great Glen Game and Stag Bakeries are adding urban appeal to products from the wildest region of the British Isles

Great Glem Game

A supplement to Fine Food Digest

the far north-east to Argyll and the isles of Arran and Islay in the southwest, the Highlands & Islands region doesn’t just encompass some of the most beautiful landscapes in Britain. Despite a population of under half a million – less than Greater Manchester – it generates more than £1bn in food and drink sales. And while that turnover is skewed by the economically dominant whisky sector, Highlands & Islands Enterprise (HIE), the Scottish Government’s economic and social development agency for the region, estimates there are around 1,900 food & drink operations here of one kind or another, employing

around 35,000 people. Great Scottish brands like Walkers Shortbread and Baxters of Speyside are giant landmarks in Briggs Shetland Lamb


hen it comes to ranging, the words ‘local’ and ‘regional’ still dominate the thinking of many deli and farm shop buyers. Result: it’s hard for producers at one end of the UK to break into stores at the other end. If you’re in Kent, why buy chutney from Cheshire when there are plenty of options on your doorstep? But some regions are so laden with positive connotations that they have pulling power well outside their locality – especially if they have something unique to offer. Scotland’s name has always been synonymous with quality when it comes to primary produce like beef and shellfish,and the rugged and remote Highlands & Islands offer maximum appeal to buyers who like to mix business with foodie romance. Stretching west of a line drawn roughly from the Shetland Isles in

the Highlands & Islands scenery. But there are many hundreds of small businesses too, often providing vital employment in parts of a region whose beauty is a byproduct of its inaccessibility. “The seafood industry and agriculture have big economic and social significance,” says Iain Sutherland, HIE senior development manager for food & drink. “They’re operating primarily in very remote communities, offering perhaps two, three or four jobs, and they’re very important in maintaining the population in these areas.” It may look like a backwater, but the fine food sector here is far from backward. Added-value, speciality producers have emerged to cover nearly every core category of the deli, farm shop and food hall market, from fine chocolates (Olive Tree in Elgin; the Oban Chocolate Company; Caithness Chocolate in Wick) to cheese (Isle of Mull Cheese, Shetland Cheese, Connage Highland Dairy); from smoked salmon (Uig Lodge and Hebridean Smokehouse both on the Isle of Lewis) to charcuterie (Great Glen Game); from fine biscuits →

Oliver Taylor/

Taming the wilderness

t has been quite a year for speciality producers in Scotland’s Highlands & Islands. In Great Taste 2013, Stag Bakeries on the Isle of Lewis saw its traditional-yet-novel Hebridean seaweed water biscuit grab both the Best Scottish Speciality title and the new Nigel Barden Heritage Award, which rewards producers keeping old-fashioned ingredients alive. On the mainland, Great Glen Game grabbed the Great Taste Charcuterie Product of the Year title for its venison salami with green peppercorns, a Highlands icon given a contemporary twist. This year has also seen Isle of Lewis-based Natalie Crayton step up from pilot level to full production of her fledgling Hebridean Sea Salt brand – a product I tipped as a winner a year ago and which has already stormed into 150 stores, including Perthshire’s House of Bruar. Together with the likes of Uig Lodge (smoked salmon), Benromach Distillery (single malts), Saladworx (salads, edible flowers and dressings) and Oban Chocolate Co, these award winners and emerging brands show the sheer variety of products available from a region whose remoteness is both a challenge and, when it comes to sourcing natural, quality ingredients, a real asset. That’s why we have teamed up with Highlands & Islands Enterprise to bring you our first guide to food & drink from the Highlands & Islands. Inside you’ll find interviews with several of those big award winners and a guide to around two dozen more producers, ready and able to supply the speciality sector UK-wide with products that have provenance in spades.


EDITORIAL Editor: Mick Whitworth Assistant editor: Michael Lane Art director: Mark Windsor

ADVERTISING Sales manager: Sally Coley Advertisement sales: Ruth Debnam, Becky Stacey Published by Great Taste Publications Ltd and the Guild of Fine Food Ltd GENERAL ENQUIRIES Tel: 01747 825200 Fax: 01747 824065 Guild of Fine Food, Guild House, 23b Kingsmead Business Park, Shaftesbury Rd, Gillingham, SP8 5FB UK Fine Food Digest is published 11 times a year and is available on subscription for £45pa inclusive of post and packing. Printed by: Blackmore, Shaftesbury, UK © Great Taste Publications Ltd and The Guild of Fine Food Ltd 2013. Reproduction of whole or part of this magazine without the publisher’s prior permission is prohibited. The opinions expressed in articles and advertisements are not necessarily those of the editor or publisher. The publisher cannot accept responsibility for unsolicited manuscripts, photographs or illustrations

2013-14 Edition


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2013-14 Edition

A supplement to Fine Food Digest

food and drink from the highlands & islands

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(Island Bakery Organics on Mull, Stag Bakeries on Lewis) to fruit wines and spirits (Orkney Wine Co, Berry Good). New boutique drinks companies, in particular, have been popping up at a rapid rate. There are today small breweries stretching from Shetland

Stag Bakeries

Speciality producers have emerged to cover nearly every core category of the deli, farm shop and food hall market and Orkney to Argyll, and recently established distilleries on Islay and Lewis. “Micro-distilleries and craft breweries seem to be going through the roof in terms of start-ups,” says Iain Sutherland. HIE – which focuses its support on the top 10% of companies most likely to deliver jobs and growth in the region – recently provided a £110,000 grant towards a £450,000 extension of the Kilchoman Distillery on Islay. Established on Islay in 2005, Kilchoman is the first new distillery on this island of famously peaty single malts in more than a century.

Distribution remains a major headache. It is easier to get product from Glasgow to London than from the Scottish Islands to Glasgow. But in the UK fine food sector, distributor The Cress Co is among those delivering niche, speciality products from the remoter regions to retailers UK-wide, and others are looking much further afield. “There’s a lot of interest in export,” says Sutherland, flagging firms such as Orkney Brewery and Macleans Highland Bakery that are making inroads into overseas markets. “It’s a question of getting the whole supply chain working more effectively.”

Highlands & Islands Enterprise, sponsor of this FFD special report, is the Scottish Government’s economic and community development agency for the region. In the food & drink sector it focuses on helping ambitious firms with growth potential, especially in export markets, and has account managers working closely with around 120 businesses in the sector, including cheese-maker Connage Dairy and Orkney’s Sinclair Breweries. It also helps promote the entire sector by funding marketing programmes run by membership body Scotland Food & Drink, and works closely with Scottish Enterprise, its counterpart for the rest of Scotland.

Excellence on show The region’s well-established food & drink awards put its star producers in focus


erry Good fruit-infused spirits, Gigha Halibut and Natalie Crayton’s Hebridean Sea Salt were among the big winners at the 2013 Highlands & Islands Food & Drink Awards, showcasing excellence across the region. Forty-one businesses were shortlisted for a total of 12 awards in the scheme, which is organised annually by the Highlands & Islands Food & Drink Forum. Caithness-based Berry Good took Best Drink award for its gin and vodka infusions, with a highly commended certificate going to Cairngorm Brewery for its Black Gold stout. Hebridean Sea Salt, from the Isle of Lewis, took the New Business award, with retailer The Cheese House of

Cromarty highly commended. Gigha Halibut took the New Product award for its smoked Gigha halibut, produced sustainably on the most southerly of the Hebridean isles. The company also took the Excellence Award as the overall stand-out entry in this year’s scheme. Distiller Gordon & MacPhail was lead sponsor of the awards, which have been supported for many years by Highlands & Islands Enterprise. Island Bakery Organics on the Isle of Mull took the Environment Award, while Seb Jones of Speyside Craft Brewery in Forres was joint winner of Young Shining Star award. For a full list of winners, visit the awards website:

Gigha Halibut and Berry Good were among 12 award winners for 2013 A supplement to Fine Food Digest

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food and drink from the highlands & islands

Flair to spare Food judges are always wowed by exceptional examples of apparently simple products, like Uig Lodge’s multi-award-winning smoked salmon



By HILARY ARMSTRONG ig Lodge’s Scottish smoked salmon is made to a family recipe that has changed very little over the years. “It’s not something overcomplicated,” insists Dickon Green, who has owned Uig Lodge smokery and fishing lodge since 1984. “I always say it’s like cooking: you can follow a recipe but certain people have an individual flair for it.” Uig Lodge has flair to spare, judging by its success at the Great Taste awards where its smoked salmon was awarded a Top 50 spot and three gold stars – for the second time – in 2013. Of course, family recipes and traditions would count for nought, were it not for the quality of the raw material. Uig Lodge smokes only Scottish Atlantic salmon from RSPCAaccredited farms and it prides itself on treating each specimen individually. “The advantage of being on the island is that the fish we get is as fresh as you can get. It makes a difference.” Christmas, unsurprisingly, is still the busiest time of year, particularly on the mail order side. That doesn’t look likely to change even though patterns of consumption are changing. “The market is growing,” says Green. “Partly because of the increasing demand for fine food in places like China but also because it has become affordable.” Uig Lodge is definitely at the luxury end of the scale, at £53 for a



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hand-sliced smoked salmon side, and is “a small business, but a growing business” with sales last year of around £350k. “We’re beginning to look at the export market,” says Green. “The idea of exporting to China or Dubai sounds daunting, but while we’re small we’re not tiny, so we should be looking.” For now, the UK market remains the focus. Green is looking to grow the firm “steadily and sustainably”, building on its restaurant and boutique hotel business (the likes of Rules and Boath House already namecheck Uig Lodge on their menus) and expanding its network of stockists. The company’s bestsellers with hotel and restaurant customers are the lateral sliced sides and, with mail order customers, the D-sliced sides. Hebridean Christmas hampers are another potential sweet spot but distribution costs, as ever in this part of the world, can be an issue. Uig Lodge has recently started working with a new distributor, Direct Seafoods London, which helps keep its salmon on the capital’s smartest tables. Distribution aside, downsides to the location are few. “Scottish smoked salmon as a general brand has a big role for us and our location in the Outer Hebrides is such a beautiful place,” says Green. “It’s wild and rugged and it conjures up images of a fresh, clean, unspoiled environment. That corresponds very well with the product we make.”

Three years after opening their smokery in Sandbank, Dunoon, Allan McDougall and Karen Baxter have amassed seven Great Taste awards and a Best New Business trophy in the Highlands & Islands Food & Drink Awards. In November 2013, their kilnroasted salmon was named overall winner in the Quality Food Awards, after first topping the fresh fish category. Baxter says the business sticks to a “deliberately small” product range – smoked salmon, trout, mussels and prawns, plus fish patés – with all its salmon and trout “genuinely handsliced”. BENROMACH DISTIILLERY

Owned by malt whisky specialist Gordon & MacPhail, Benromach Distillery in Forres produces handcrafted Speyside single malts including the flagship 10 Years Old, offering a “rich sherry character and a light peat smoke”. The range also includes the world’s first certified organic single malt, Benromach Organic, and Benromach Origins, a series of special bottlings showcasing different whisky-making techniques. The latest, Batch 4 and Batch 5, bottled this year, have respectively been matured in Port ‘pipes’ (barrels) and made with the Golden Promise Barley. BERRY GOOD

Benromach whisky owner Gordon & MacPhail, based in Elgin, is also distributor for the multi-awardwinning Berry Good range of fruitinfused spirits, produced by Jill Brown and her team in Caithness, about 20 miles from John O’Groats. Using fruit from Wester Hardmuir Fruit Farm in Nairn, Berry Good produces spirits “bursting with berriness”, including a raspberry gin and a strawberry & black pepper vodka. Two sizes – 50cl and 10cl – have been joined this year by a “trio gift box” of assorted 10cl bottles.

One of the handful of Scottish products to boast EU Protected Designation of Origin status, Native Shetland Lamb boasts flavours shaped by the wild grasses, heather, herbs and flowers on which the animals feed. Great Taste award-winning farmer Richard Briggs sells mainly directto-consumer or to restaurant chefs, rather than though shops, but tells FFD: “Sometimes hard-working deli owners have to treat themselves to products that are not a natural fit with their business range.” BUTE ISLAND FOODS

Offering vegan alternatives to dairy products, Bute Island Foods produces nine flavours of vegan hard Sheese, including smoked, strong, mozzarella and Cheshire, and six versions of its soft Creamy Sheese, including garlic & herb and spring onion & black pepper. New additions include a “melty” range of Sheese suitable for cooking, and seven chilled “mock meats” including chorizo and mock ham. CAIRNGORM BREWERY

Set up 12 years ago in Aviemore, in the Cairngorms National Park, Cairngorm Brewery has developed a mix of traditional and contemporary brews, blending old and new malt and hop varieties with clear mountain water. Winning awards from SIBA, CAMRA and the Guild of Fine Food, the range extends from light Continentalstyle beers such as Cairngorm Gold to Black Gold, a rich, dark stout. CAITHNESS CHOCOLATE

Artisan chocolatier Caithness Chocolate produces truffles and bars made with chocolate from sustainable sources, often incorporating other ingredients bought close to its base in Wick, the most northerly county on the British mainland. These include Old Pulteney whisky, Caithness Smokehouse smoked butter and Crowdie, a soft, lemony cheese made by Rory Stone at Highland Fine A supplement to Fine Food Digest

food and drink from the highlands & islands Cheese. Truffles are available in boxes of six or 12, while artisan slabs are made in 100g or bite-size 40g bars. COAST & GLEN

Former fisherman Marcus Houston has built a customer base of around 80 restaurants and delis for Coast & Glen, the sustainable Scottish seafood merchant he set up to sell “the same high quality products I was catching on my boat”. While many retailers struggle to sell fresh fish quickly enough, Houston says Shetland king scallops, east coast smoked haddock and St James smoked salmon all offer longer shelf lives. “The delis we currently supply have an email list of shoppers and arrange for orders to be picked up on a Friday. They also have restaurants that can use fish not sold by end of its shelf life.” Coast & Glen offers next-day delivery anywhere in the UK. COCOA MOUNTAIN

Cocoa Mountain is targeting luxury food retailers with a range that includes boxed chocolates, fresh truffles, shards, tablet bars, drops and beans. It uses “innovative ingredients and flavour combinations” such as redbush, ginger & honey and blueberry & cinnamon. Recent introductions from Cocoa Mountain, based at Balnakeil in Durness, include peppermint fondants and six varieties of handmade tablet bar using organic Dominican Republic chocolate. CONNAGE HIGHLAND DAIRY

The Clark family have been making cheese on their organic dairy farm at Ardersier, near Inverness, since late 2005 and opened a state-of-the-art dairy there in 2006 with grant aid from HIE. Connage Highland Dairy now produces a range of premium hand-made soft and hard cheeses including Clava brie, Crowdie, Cromal, smoked Dunlop and gouda, made with milk from the farm’s own herd. Its Connage Dunlop was listed among the Top 10 Cheeses in Britain in The Independent this year. A supplement to Fine Food Digest


The most northerly rapeseed oil producer in the UK, Robert Mackenzie says his family’s Cullisse oil is “enhanced by the longer growing season, combined with the mild climate and extra long days of light which distinguish a Highland summer”. Cullisse is grown, cold-pressed and bottled on the farm of the same name near Tain in Easter Ross and has made it to the shelves of Fortnum & Mason and Selfridges as well as the kitchen of Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck at Bray. It is available in 250ml, 500ml and catering sizes, and has recently been joined by a 250ml mixed pepper & spice marinade. DONALDSONS OF ORKNEY

Winner of Best Scottish Speciality at Great Taste 2012 for its hot smoked salmon, Donaldsons of Orkney has been producing quality hickorysmoked fish, meats, bacon, puddings and sausages for decades. The Kirkwall company’s salmon is reared in Orkney and processed locally to ensure freshness. “In curing our salmon, the salt content is lower than most similar products,” says Erik Donaldson, “which gives a shorter shelf life but a healthier product without losing the salmon’s flavour.” The use of hickory wood gives “much enhanced succulence and balance”, he adds. ISLE OF SKYE SEA SALT CO

Launching nationally in spring 2014, Isle of Skye Sea Salt Co is being described as “the first sea salt producer on Skye for 300 years”. The new business takes sea water from a remote location on Loch Snizort and extracts salt in a bespoke ‘salt house’ using sun and wind for evaporation. No fossil fuels are used in this process. Support for the development has come from Business Gateway, HIE, and Highland Opportunity, and the company collaborated with Robert Gordon University on sustainable packaging, which was designed by Eighth Day Design. Already on sale locally, the product will go national in 150g retail packs with ‘fine grain’ or ‘premium crystal’ options, plus 1kg catering packs.

By HILARY ARMSTRONG egional, artisan, natural... Great Glen Game’s venison charcuterie ticks all the ‘foodie’ boxes. And now it’s added a new adjective to the list: it’s fashionable. “We are selling more and more to restaurants. That’s a real growing market for us,” says Anja Baak, who owns Great Glen Game with her husband Jan Jacob. “The trend for sharing platters has made charcuterie more fashionable. Chefs are still looking for more local products and charcuterie is an easy one for them to prepare.” Fashion isn’t the only reason why the Baaks’ business is blossoming. In this year’s Great Taste scheme they not only won a prestigious three-star award and a place in the Top 50 Foods in Britain, but they scooped one of the big ‘Golden Forks’ – the inaugural Charcuterie Product of the Year award – for their green pepper salami. Their Great Taste success has quickly had an impact. “The sticker with the three gold stars helps,” says Baak. “Customers are picking it up. They’re reading about us. It all helps raise our profile.” The business is close to growing out of the Old Butcher’s Shop in the Highlands village of Roy Bridge where it started in 2003 – “We’re getting to the limit of what we can produce,” says Baak – and the owners are scouting out new premises. It’s still just the Baaks, one full-timer and one part-timer on the payroll but they’ve now started working with a distributor, The Cress Co, for the


first time and they’ll probably look for another pair of hands once new premises are secured. The business is still small (turnover last year was £140k) but Anja is quietly confident they’ll improve on that this year. Things have changed since the couple relocated their young family from their native Netherlands to the wilds of Scotland to manage a Highlands estate. Jan Jacob initially got into smoking venison prime cuts as a hobby, but when they proved a smash with dinner guests they decided to turn the hobby into a business. “We had to educate customers in how to use our product,” recalls his wife. “There’s more awareness now, though I’m quite surprised by how many people still haven’t tried it.” As the Baaks’ business has increased, so too has the competition. Great Glen Game’s pure venison charcuterie remains very unusual, however. “There are more people doing what we do, so we have to make sure we bring something unique to the table – our taste and flavours.” Communicating their points of difference is tough when they are “so far away from everywhere” but Anja has embraced social media (Twitter in particular) to get their story out there. “People like a personal story and the personal touch you get with social media,” she says. “All our products are handmade here using local wild venison and we have a strong local connection. That’s the story you tell.”

Monarchs of the glen

Great Glen Game is winning headlines with its fashionable twist on a traditional Highlands ingredient: venison 2013-14 Edition


Caithness Smokehouse is an award-winning cottage industry run by John and Christine. Together we are committed to the production of an excellent range of gourmet-smoked products. We use only the highest quality fish, meat, cheese and seafood, locally sourced from sustainable supplies. Our aim is to provide only the finest quality smoked food for today’s discerning market. We offer an extensive range of smoked products, including hot and cold smoked salmon, haddock, trout, seafood, and dairy produce.

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Salann na Mara (Salt of the Sea) is a high quality sea salt produced on the Isle of Skye, which enhances the flavour of food.

salami - chorizo - pepperoni - smoked venison - bresaola winning Charcuterie made made with pure wildwild venison AwardAward winning Charcuterie with pure venison sustainably sourced from the Scottish Highlands. sustainably sourced from the Scottish Highlands. Contact Anja – Tel: 01397 712121 · Email:

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A supplement to Fine Food Digest

food and drink from the highlands & islands KILCHOMAN DISTILLERY


With sales of whisky from Islay’s Kilchoman Distillery growing 50% over the past two years, the business – best known for its Machir Bay single malt – has just invested £450,000 in a new 10,000cask warehouse, with grant aid from HIE. One of Scotland’s smallest distilleries, Kilchoman exports 90% of its whisky to 30 countries worldwide.

A family-run firm with a thriving chocolate factory, café and shop on Oban’s seafront esplanade, Oban Chocolate Co has been producing handmade truffles, moulded bars and other chocolates for trade clients since 2003. As well as its short shelf life, fresh products (up to six weeks), it now offers four styles of Scottish Artisan Chocolates, with a 12-16 week shelf life, in trays of eight or 12. They are: heather & berries, whisky & spice, peppermint creams and summer fruits.


the north-east of England, Orkney Creamery’s flavours include: chocolate; toffee & Orkney fudge; rhubarb & custard; lemon curd; and apple crumble. They are packed in 100ml and 500ml retail pots as well as foodservice packs. ORKNEY WINE CO

As well as supplying celebrity chefs including James Martin and Albert Roux, Saladworx has racked up a number of firsts since its launch nearly a decade ago. Based near Dornoch in the Highlands, it was the first salad farmer to produce its own dressings, and the first to use flower petals and seaweed in a dressing.


Ten chutneys, seven marmalades and 12 jams comprise the range of preserves made by Pat McPherson in her Campbeltown kitchen, at the foot of Argyll’s Kintyre peninsular. The retired languages teacher set out to provide “something for every palate” with her recipes, ranging from raspberry and strawberry jams to combinations such as peach & amaretto, all in 220g hexagonal jars with raffia-tied gingham tops.

whisky finish”. Wines are all filled in 75cl bottles, while the liqueurs are available in 35cl or 70cl versions.


A two-star Great Taste award for its Original Orkney ice cream is the latest accolade for this third-generation family business, a former Scottish Dairy Company of the Year. The Bichan family have owned Crantit Farm, near Orkney’s Scapa Beach, since 1949 and began ice cream production here in 1995 using local milk and cream. Distributing in Scotland and

The UK’s most northerly winery produces hand-crafted natural fruit drinks including a dry, full-bodied red wine made with wild blueberries and a fruity, bitter-sweet sloe & bramble liqueur. There is also a light, floral white wine made with elderflower, and the crisp, fresh Strubarb, made with strawberries and rhubarb. The newest addition to the liqueurs range is Tattie, made using three varieties of Orkney-grown heritage potatoes and matured in Arran malt whisky casks. According to Scott van Schayk of Orkney Wine, if offers “an intensely different and smooth taste, with a subtle

Its citrus-sea range of dressings combines Hebridean seaweed with natural citrus juices including lemon and grapefruit. Other dressings include calendula & garlic, made using its own farm-grown calendula (marigold) petals. While its fresh salad leaves and flowers are strictly seasonal, Saladworx has launched three varieties of dried edible flowers that can be sprinkled on salads or cakes, in cocktails or even frozen into ice cubes.

How a little local baker went ‘off-island’ On Lewis it’s known for its bread and cakes, but now Stag Bakeries is breaking into export markets with its not-so-traditional sweet and savoury biscuits By HILARY ARMSTRONG stablished in 1885 on the Isle of Lewis, Stag Bakeries is in an unusual position. It’s both a trusted local baker to generations of Hebrideans and a fine food brand with the potential to take its sweet and savoury biscuits around the world. It’s the latter that Stag Bakeries is driving forward, something that wouldn’t be possible without deep local roots and a solid foundation of tradition and skills. “Our bread and butter is really our daily goods here,” says general manager Alasdair Maclean, referring to Stag’s standard baker’s fare of breads, cakes and savouries. “Our local trade is the base of our business, giving us an element of protection and a foundation to go for the ‘off-island’ sales.” This ‘off-island’ trade revolves around a 16-strong range of sweet and savoury biscuits that includes its bestselling Stornoway original water biscuits (25% of Stag’s biscuit sales)


A supplement to Fine Food Digest

and its newer Hebridean seaweed version. The latter was a double winner in Great Taste 2013, securing both the Best Scottish Speciality title and a new Nigel Barden Heritage Award for helping preserve a

traditional Scottish ingredient. Stag stepped up its biscuit business two years ago, though they still make up just 10% of its £1.85m turnover. The aim is to up that share next year to 20% and eventually to 40 or even 50%. “It’s what bakeries are having to do to survive,” says Maclean. “If they’re relying on local trade, they’re limiting themselves.” Stag’s Hebridean heritage plays well in a way that “in-your-face Scottish” doesn’t, he adds. By avoiding “twee tartan” connotations on its new packaging and striking a “classical Scottish, and in particular Hebridean” note, Stag differentiates itself from its competitors. The seaweed range of water biscuits, shortbread and oatcakes made using sustainably sourced red, green and brown local seaweed, exemplifies this approach: the sea, the natural resources and the location are all there in the product. “We have to be a wee bit different in what we produce,” explains Maclean. “Our transportation costs are horrendous, as we have to build the price of getting raw materials here and the finished product away into our costings. If we go into the market with a plain oatcake, we face an ongoing battle of the lowest price. We’re not

playing on a level playing field.” The next phase of development will see Stag targeting new customers in a “proactive rather than reactive way”. Specialist retail has been the company’s focus but now it’s looking at foodservice and developing the export side with the help of Stephen Hodgetts of sales development consultancy Gourmet Partners. “Coming from a production base, we recognise we don’t have the depth of skills here,” says Maclean, “so the best way to drive the extra sales activity is to contract with people who already have the links. Our primary targets are Asia, the USA, Canada and northern Europe. It’s going to take next year at least to break the back of those.”

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food and drink from the highlands & islands

Making waves Two years from launch, Natalie Crayton’s sea salt is already listed in 150 stores By HILARY ARMSTRONG erfect water’ is how Hebridean Sea Salt owner Natalie Crayton describes the seawater she collects from the shores of Loch Erisort on the Isle of Lewis to make her sea salt – the first of its kind in Scotland, and already an award-winner. She knew when she founded the


business in 2011 that the Loch’s clean Grade A-certified water, sheltered location and high mineral content would be well suited to producing a Scottish salt to rival England’s Maldon or Anglesey’s Halen Môn. She just needed to find a way of producing it. Crayton struck upon the idea in 2008 having read about the launch of

Cornish Sea Salt and scouted around for a local equivalent. There followed a “very intensive period” of research and development as the marine biology graduate and “stay at home mum” hit the books, working with engineers to investigate technology and build equipment, all the while securing funding to put theory into practice. (Highlands & Islands Enterprise, the Western Isles Council, Scotland Food & Drink, and most recently the Scottish EDGE fund – to name but a few – have helped with funding.) Her product has come a long way from the ‘salty sludge’ she describes in the beginning. The Pure Original Sea Salt, since joined by peat-smoked and seaweed-infused varieties, is listed in 150 stores including Peckhams and Valvona & Crolla, and used by Scottish chefs such as Michael Smith and Andrew Fairlie. The UK sea salt business is worth £4m and is increasing by 10% a year. Others are joining the race, including a newcomer on the Isle of Skye, featured in these pages, but Crayton is unfazed: “I know what we’ve been through to get here; we’re three or

a new, purpose-built smokehouse in Alness, Ross-shire, 20 minutes from Inverness. The move not only gave it better production facilities but faster transport links, enabling it to offer reductions of up on 15% on its previous trade price list. What has not changed in the last 30 years is Summer Isles’ salmon curing method. Rather than drySUGAR CROFT FAERIE

Based on the shores of Loch Ewe, on Scotland’s north-west coast, Sugar Croft Faerie hand-makes sweets such as chocolate truffles, fudge, almond dragées, tablet and caramel. Owner Christine MacNeill says the range includes “both traditional and slightly quirkier flavours, often with a twist on Scottish tastes”. Her double-cream fudge, for example, comes in flavours such as vanilla, gingerbread and Whisky Mac, in 100g bags. Sugar Croft Faerie truffles are made with Belgian milk, dark and white chocolate with centres including honey-lavender, sesameginger and Raspberrycello liqueur.

salting its fish before smoking, it opts for a brine marinade spiced with molasses, juniper berries and black peppercorn to give “a subtle hint of sweetness to the aftertaste”.


Smoked Orkney mature cheddar is the number one product from The Island Smokery, based in a purposebuilt smokehouse in Stromness on the south-west of mainland Orkney.


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and premium food halls, is operated by Williamsons, a popular butcher in Kirkwall, the Orkney capital. As a shareholder in Orkney Meat Processors, which took over the running of Orkney’s only abattoir in 2012, Williamsons is one of only four butchers selling these PDO meats. Stewart Anderson, who runs the Taste of Orkney site for Williamsons, tells FFD: “A lot of beef cattle are sent to the mainland for finishing but only animals reared and slaughtered on Orkney qualify for the PDO mark, and Ali Flett of Williamsons is fiercely proud of the PDO.” The most exclusive Orkney Lamb is from North Ronaldsay sheep, which graze the shoreline of the most northerly of the Orkney Isles. “Williamsons is the biggest buyer of North Ronaldsay sheep,” says Anderson, adding: “This is expensive stuff, but we’re marketing to people for whom provenance is paramount.”


THE ISLAND SMOKERY Established in the 1970s and best known for its ‘wet cured’ salmon, Summer Isles Foods relocated in 2012 from the north-west coast to

The business, run by Callum Macinnes, also produces smoked garlic bulbs and has recently launched a “smokey red” cheese – a coloured Orkney mature cheddar. “Our environmental policy of recycling wherever we can has resulted in our unique blend of wood for the smoking process,” says Macinnes. “Our wood is the waste product of a local craftsman who makes bodhran drums and since we started using this method the cheese has been winning many awards, including a Great Taste award in both 2012 and 2013 for our dark smoked cheese.”

four years ahead. In Scotland, we’ve got the whole market. We got there first.” Hebridean Sea Salt is a young business but has packed in a lot already. It moved from its small pilot plant to a larger unit in July this year with a view to increasing production from 100kg to 600kg a day. The main challenges so far have been technical: finding low energy, cost-effective ways to evaporate seawater and recycling energy. This year will see Crayton focus on PR and marketing. Already the salt has had a new look in response to retailer feedback. The new packaging, by design agency 999, has strong branding and a picture of Crayton herself on the back. “It’s a family business,” she says. “People like to know it’s run by a person.” Also in the pipeline are new flavours and a line of Hebridean Sea Salt crisps. She’s predicting a strong year (with a forecast turnover of £120k) as she looks to penetrate the market south of the border. “People love the idea of the Hebrides. They love the lifestyle. It’s clean, unpolluted, remote. They buy into it. I hope our brand will travel.”

Taste of Orkney provides an online outlet for two key Protected Designation of Origin products from the Northern Isles: Orkney Beef and Orkney Lamb. The site, aimed at consumers and upmarket trade clients such as delis A supplement to Fine Food Digest

Traditionally made cheeses from Shetland, including our award-winning Soothe Mooth, Caraway flavoured Shetland Carvy or St Ninian’s soft cheese

For more information please contact Jay Hawkins on 01595 860 202 or







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