g Catherine Fellows goes : beyond Scottish Cheddar
to discover a plethora of hand-made cheeses emerging from a Scottish cottage industry.
Until the Second World War. cheesemaking would have been a natural part of farm life. with small dairies producing enough cheese in their own idiosyncratic ways to satisfy home and local requirements and use up any milk surplus. But with economic upheavals in the 50s and (ills. a whole tradition was sacrificed to the drive for streamlined. cost-effective tnass production. Now. 80 per cent of cheese consumed in Scotland is pre-packed ('heddar — a higher percentage than in England even. where regional hard cheeses such as Cheshire. Double Gloucester and Wensleydale. have never lost their traditional popularity.
The Scots alone have an inexplicable penchant for red ('heddar. with over 8“ percent choosing the coloured alternative. despite the fact that there is absolutely no difference. except for a splash of vegetable dye. I don‘t want to knock Scottish ('heddar: as John Russell. w ho represents itsinajor manufacturers and distributes the
Quality Mark. will be the first to tell
you. it has a prestigious international
reputation and has won many awards. As he says. however adventurous people are with ‘fancy' cheeses. there will always be room for a large lump of(‘heddar in their fridges as well.
What is exciting now is that there is an increasingly well-established bunch of high quality. small-scale cheese producers in Scotland. Seven ofthem. who are turning out enough to worry about marketing have got together and formed the Handmade Cheese of Scotland Association. (‘hairman Humphrey [irrington. of Lanark and Dunsyre Blue fame. says that the members are united in their dedication to producing ‘real' cheese. not uniform. bland. rubbery factory stuff. ‘l)edication‘ is the right word. because things have not been easy for them. It is only in the last few years. as more people dip into a plethora of unusual cheeses on their holidays abroad. that the market for specialised. home-produced cheeses has picked up. The current recession has hit them as well. since theirs are luxury foods. expensive because of the enormous amount of work that goes in to making them. But it is not difficult to appreciate what keeps their dedication alive: you only hay e to taste a hand-made (‘heddar or. betterstill. a Dunlop. Scotland‘s traditional \Vest ( ‘oast version now
78'l‘he List 27 September— l(l()ctober 1991
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only made for special occasions. and matured for several months or more. It will fall away front the cheese knife iti big. moist crumbs and have a flavour every bit as good as Parmesan. that ltalian king of cheeses. but. dare I say it. its rancid edge.
()ne of the first to rebel against the homogeneity of the cheese world was Su/annah Stone. In the early ()(JS she and her husband were scraping a living from a small farm in 'l'ain. when one evening they fancied sortie crowdie. At the time you couldn’t buy the traditional Scottish curd cheese anywhere. so Mrs Stone decided to make some — after all it was only scrambled soured milk. With the help ol‘something from the chemist to make the milk curdle and a couple of wedding-present pillow cases to strain the curds in. she succeeded. In fact. she was landed with lSlbs ofchcese on her hands. She took it to the local grocer in lieu of bills and hoped to (iod it wasn‘t poisonous. When he sold out and asked for more she started a moonlight industry in bath tubs in the basement. 'l‘he Stones are now well known for their exclusive ('aboc. the most expensive cheese in Britain. which graces superior cheese boards as far away as Sydney and Tokyo. It is apparently made to the recipe of the McDonald chieftains and was a good way of
using the double cream left over from crowdie production — it tastes like butter rolled in oatmeal. There are cheaper imitations. which are said to be as good.
The Stones are typical in that their cheese-making happened almost by accident. Brenda Leddy. also a Hand Made member. started making cheese because she bought a cow as a souvenir frotn a holiday to Jersey. Before long. she had a small herd. and had to find something to do with all that creamy milk during the winter when the hotels were quiet. She now makes Stichill. a hard cheese similar to Cheshire. and Kelsie. a crumbly Wensleydale-type with a yoghurt starter. originally
made by an ‘old Scottish wifey‘ years
ago. Except for the milking. which is her daughter‘s domain. she does everything herself. from attacking the curds with a potato-masher. to turning the bandaged cheeses every day for three months or more. ‘l'm up to my waist in cheese. there are buckets all over the kitchen. I work sixteen hours a day. but it is great to turn a cheese out ofits press and think “gee whiz. I did that." And I do love my Jerseys. they give spontaneous affection — which is more than I can say for my husband!‘ Her neighbour John Curtis has been making cheese for twelve years. but it is only in the last two that he has begun to see a profit. He