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Issue 51 - Blessed are the cheese makers

Scotland Magazine Issue 51
June 2010


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Blessed are the cheese makers

Sue Lawrence explores the great tasty world of Scottish cheese.

One Easter weekend some nine years ago, 350 animals were killed in a UK-wide Foot and Mouth cull at Loch Arthur Community in Dumfriesshire. Determined to remember that tragic day in a more uplifting way, the members of Locharthur Creamery made a batch of their unpasteurised organic cheese with the last milking from the doomed dairy herd. The cheeses were stored away and regularly tested, during the eight long weeks cheese production ceased. Then in late September of the same year Easter cheese was entered in the prestigious British Cheese Awards and for the first time ever, won a Gold Medal, the cheese was truly outstanding.

Perhaps it was fate, providence or just plain good luck. But the cheese certainly deserved acclaim then as it does now, for it is an incredibly tasty, sophisticated cheese with a true, lingering flavour which makes it one of Scotland’s greats.

The story of Loch Arthur is not all about serendipity, however. It is also about hard work, dedication and vision. The Loch Arthur Community is well known locally as it produces organic vegetables and fruit for the farm shop, raises organic beef and dairy cattle and sheep, bakes bread in their own bakery and of course makes world-class cheese. But it is also unique in Scotland, as the community of some 75 people includes 30 adults with learning difficulties, all of whom share in the work. A visit to Loch Arthur is humbling not only to see the fruits of the labours of so many devoted people but to taste and see that the most natural ingredients, locally produced with skill and care, do indeed make the best food.

Since it was set up, the Creamery has developed from tiny venture to full-scale production now of 8,000 to 10,000 kilos of cheese a year. Production grew so much since it began, they were able to open their new Creamery and shop in 1998 It all began through necessity. They needed to use up excess milk from their dairy herd. In the small, modern creamery, I saw cheeses in the presses, ready to be turned, scalded and wrapped in delicate mantles of muslin. After some six months’ maturing, during which they are carefully turned and wiped, they are ready to be sold. Another of my favourites at Loch Arthur is Criffel, a semi-soft, rind-washed cheese with a smooth, deep flavour, ideal for a cheeseboard or for cooking.

With these and other stunning Scottish farmhouse cheeses now widely available, why do we still resort to characterless supermarket Brie or bright orange, bland, factory-produced so-called Cheddar. Why not opt for traditionally-made farmhouse cheese, not because of patriotism but for reasons of good taste. As well as the range at Loch Arthur Creamery, Scotland has many more to offer: there is the wonderful Isle of Mull Cheddar and Connage Crowdie, a soft traditional cottage cheese made in the Highlands. Orkney gives us the wonderful Grimbister cheese and Strathdon Blue made in the far North East, just like Dunsyre Blue from the Borders, are two of the country’s finest blue cheeses.

No more excuse is needed to buy tasteless cheese produced on a mass scale these days.

CHEESE SOUFFLÉ TART Serves 6 1. For the pastry, place the flour and butter in a food processor with a pinch of salt and whizz until breadcrumbs. Beat the egg and add gradually through the feeder tube then add enough oil to bind, about 1 tbsp. Bring together in your hands and clingwrap for about 20 minutes then roll out and line a deep, 23cm tart tin. Prick the base and chill overnight or for at least 4 hours.

2. Fill with foil and baking beans and blind bake for 15 minutes at 200C / 400F / Gas 6 then remove foil and beans and cook for a further 5 minutes. Remove and cool.

3. For the filling, melt the butter, add the flour and stir for 1 to 2 minutes until a lightly coloured roux is formed. Gradually add the milk, whisking until thick and smooth: 3 to 4 minutes.

Remove from the heat, beat in the egg yolks one at a time. Stir in the cheese and season well. Whisk the egg whites to soft peaks then fold gently into the sauce, starting with one spoonful of whites to loosen the mixture. Tip carefully into the tart case. Bake at 200C / 400F / Gas 6 for 10 minutes then lower to 190C / 375F / Gas 5 for a further 20 minutes until puffed up and crusty. Serve warm with green salad.

250g / 9 oz plain flour, sifted
125g / 4½ oz chilled butter, diced
1 free-range medium egg
Olive oil

55g / 2 oz butter
40g / 1½ oz plain flour
300 ml / half pint milk
4 large free-range eggs, separated
175g / 6 oz Farmhouse Cheddar-style cheese grated
(Loch Arthur Farmhouse or Isle of Mull)