In order to find out what there is to celebrate about food and drink in The Highlands, we got hold of The Ambassador of the Highlands and Islands Food and Drink Awards, Shirley Spear to hear all about it.
“Life in the Highlands & Islands is diverse and incredibly interesting, from large farming to island crofting and a great deal more besides. Food and drink has always played a very important part in life in the region.
There are many small, artisan producers and also, a wide range of relatively small businesses that are crucial for the economy of rural Scotland. The development of food and drink businesses in the Highlands and Islands can also be on quite a grand scale, but they are very important for supporting local employment in more remote areas and also supporting traditional industries, such as distillers, brewers, fishermen, smoke houses and crofters who may wish to diversify and grow.
A huge number of tourists are choosing Scotland as their destination of preference because they want to sample the food and drink. We have a burgeoning reputation for great food and drink, which is the reverse of what we have known in previous decades; but now we celebrate fresh produce of all kinds, from the land and sea – fish, shellfish, beef, lamb and game, plus soft fruits and delicious heritage vegetables, as well as more modern ingredients, grown locally on a small scale and distributed without recourse to travel miles.
From bakery, confectionery, jams, jellies and condiments to whisky, beers, vodka and gin, the range of interesting and unique produce is astounding. There is a rise in high quality charcuterie, using free-range pork and venison. Come and sample the cheese and dairy products, with crowdie a Highland speciality that we should make more of. Seek out oatcakes and bannocks using various flours and traditional “local” recipes and of course smoked fish of all kinds, particularly kippers. This area is a microcosm of everything that is best about Scotland, only much fresher and more special because it is produced on a smaller scale. There is a hint of romance associated with some of these products, simply because of the location in which they are created.
Visit local markets, farm shops, local delicatessens and eateries. It should be easy to find something to suit your price range. Notable in recent times is the increase of pop-up “shacks” specialising in seafood and fabulous tearooms devoting themselves to fantastic home-baking, plus a great selection of teas and coffees. In our larger towns, the High Street butcher and (hopefully) fishmonger will have the best that the area can provide. Local bakers are very important too, of course!
It is easy enough to find out if there is a local market, selling fresh produce from small growers in the area or perhaps find out the day that a fish van visits the area, with fresh fish on board. No matter which part of the Highlands and Islands you are staying in, there will be a local delicacy to discover.
The Highlands and Islands Food and Drink Awards is an event dedicated to celebrating all that is great about produce from the region. Entries for the Awards are called every year and widely publicised. The winners will go forward as representatives for the Highlands & Islands for the wider Scotland Food & Drink Awards each year. There are various classes to choose to enter to suit each type of business and full details are always on the website. The organisations involved are active on social media and always promote the launch of the Awards each year. It’s a great way for small businesses to promote their wares.
Developing food and drink businesses isn’t only a benefit to tourism, it extends to locals too, who need to be encouraged to buy local and taste the difference! It is a win-win situation and one in which we should all be taking more pride.”
The incredible produce of Scotland has never has such a high profile and should be celebrated every year. Where are you going to start your foodie adventures?