Scotland is a foodie heaven. Think we’re all about Haggis and Deep-Fried Mars Bars? Yes, Haggis is our national dish, a centuries old delicacy, with a coarse, oaty texture and a warming peppery taste which makes you forget that it consists of offal and is traditionally cooked in a sheep’s stomach. And we did invent the Deep-Fried Mars Bar, a guilty pleasure which is best enjoyed with some Irn Bru sorbet.
But Scottish cuisine is so much more than this. Indeed, our food and drink products are amongst the best in the world, with the bounty of our natural larder in demand all over the planet. With the Atlantic on our doorstep, fresh mountain waters, lush rolling hills, fertile soil and varied weather Scotland produces ingredients unrivalled in quality which allow us to produce the best food in the world, whether it be hand-dived Scallops, Aberdeen Angus Beef, Stornoway Black Pudding, Arbroath Smokies, Dunsyre Blue cheese or Shortbread. We believe passionately that Scottish produce is the best.
Our very own award-winning chef Iain MacDonald uses only the finest ingredients from throughout Scotland, and we grow our own fresh produce on site in our two splendid Mackenzie and Moncur hothouses to ensure that not only do we produce the finest cuisine for our guests but that we stay true to our ethos of locally sourced ingredients from nature to plate. This philosophy is common amongst Scotland’s culinary community, which numbers countless extraordinary restaurants including 9 honoured with prestigious Michelin Stars.
More than 5,000 fishermen on over 2,000 boats work Scotland’s coastline and islands, harvesting a wonderful supply of environmentally friendly and sustainable Atlantic wild salmon, lobster, halibut, hand-dived scallops, oysters, sea bass, mussels, langoustine, crabs, cockles, North Sea haddock and more and they find their way into not only the world’s grocers, with some of the world’s most iconic department stores insisting on Scottish seafood, but onto the plates of the most discerning, demanding and highly decorated chefs.
And if you are in the mood for some authentic and rustic Scottish seafood experiences you should consider a visit to Arbroath, on the east coast, for a world-famous Arbroath Smokie. Or to the world renowned Anstruther Fish Bar on the East Neuk of Fife, widely regarded as the best ‘chippy’ in the land for a traditional Fish Supper (Fish & Chips), as enjoyed by the likes of Tom Hanks and Robert De Niro. Your biggest decision will be whether to elevate it with vinegar or the unique, fruity and tangy chippy sauce, a decision why has created a friendly rivalry between west (vinegar) and east (sauce) for generations.
Scotland’s meat is peerless, whether it be farmed meat or game. Our Scotch Beef, for example, is the favourite of many a discerning diner and chef, including Chef Iain, who sources beef for The Carlowrie Club from the Buccleugh Estate. Our climate produces the superior grass on which our cattle are fed, and this combined with our quality of fresh air and the exercise our cattle enjoy give Scotch Beef it’s incredible texture and flavour. Scotch Beef, along with Scotch Lamb, which benefits from the same climate and lands, is protected by the EU PGI scheme (Protected Geographical Indication). PGI protects and promotes high quality traditional and regional food products unique to a geographic area.
This not only means that you can only get Scotch Beef and Lamb from Scottish cattle on Scottish farms it is an indication of best practice regarding animal welfare and natural production methods.
We also have a bountiful supply of the finest Game in the world, thanks again to our rolling hills, lush woodlands, fresh water, fertile soil and climate. These combine to provide not only a place for Game to roam but also and incredible diet which contributes greatly to the wonderful flavours. Scotland is famed for her venison, grouse, wild mallard, partridge and pheasant when in season, and pigeon, rabbit and hare throughout the year.
Fruits and Vegetables
As you would expect from such fertile lands, particularly in Perthshire, Scotland produces fruits and vegetables of outstanding quality, from edible berries – of which there about 10 different types you can find in Scotland’s woods, including wild cherries, blaeberries, sloes, rowan and juniper berries – to dozens of species of wild mushrooms. Scotland is famed for using local ingredients so you are sure to enjoy some of these in our best restaurants, but it can be arguably more fun to forage and create your own dishes, something the Carlowrie Club can curate for you with the help of our incredible chef.
But where Scotland excels hands down is producing strawberries and raspberries. There is simply no finer fruit in the world than ‘in season’ Scottish strawberries and raspberries and you have never fully enjoyed traditional strawberries and cream until you’ve devoured Scottish strawberries and cream. And as for raspberries, well, no trip to Scotland would be complete without a traditional Cranachan dessert using in season Scottish raspberries.
As you would expect from such a fertile land abundant with the healthiest cattle, Scotland has all of the tools to produce top quality cheeses and in recent times the country’s reputation for producing cheese has grown. The fresh grass and cover that our cattle are fed on really comes through in the flavours of many. Best enjoyed with some Scottish oatcakes or an artisan bread, our Top Ten consists of:
Dunlop Cheddar – produced in Ayrshire and protected by the EU, this is a hard cheese made from cow’s milk which is perfect when roasted on bread and served with a tomato and pepper chutney.
Arran Blue – As the name suggests this cheese is produced on the Isle of Arran and is quite simply one of the best blue cheeses available. Try it on a thick oatcake with a glass of Pinot Noir.
Connage Gouda – a semi-hard cheese with a mild sweet taste produced near Inverness. It goes fabulously with a gooseberry and rhubarb chutney.
Morangie Brie – a cheese produced in Easter Ross, this is a British Cheese Awards ‘Gold’ Winner. Take it out of the fridge early so it’s nice and soft for spreading on a baguette.
Anster – made with the milk of Friesian Holstein cows, this Fife-produced cheese has a fresh, dry taste and a crumbly texture and dissolves in the mouth to leave it’s full-flavoured finish.
St Duthac Blue – produced by the same family who make Morangie Blue, this is a treat. Slightly milder than a Blue Stilton it is creamy and has a salty tang. If you’ve no oatcakes, enjoy it melted over a fillet steak.
Connage Crowdie – one of Scotland’s oldest cheeses and a perfect partner for a wee dram, Crowdie is a half-fat cheese made by the same team who produce Connage Gouda. It is soft, creamy and has a mousse-like texture and packs a fresh and zesty aroma with an aftertaste that is a wee bit sour.
Isle of Mull Cheddar – strong, fruity and brooding, this is often referred to as the ‘daddy of Scottish cheddars’. Unlike most cheddars, which are either insipid or rich in yellows, the Isle of Mull Cheddar has an ivory veneer, foreshadowing what the palate may expect.
Strathdon Blue – another from the Tain dairy which produces Morangie and St Duthac, the Strathdon Blue is a chees capable of bringing out all the emotions in cheese lovers. Essentially a mild cheese, it has a wide range of flavours, tastes and textures, vibrant with a tang and a salty aftertaste.
Clava – produced by the Connage dairy, Clava is a brie which is mild and engaging with hidden depths of bitterness and coolness. Leave it to ripen to bring out it’s nuttery taste and unique grassy flavour.
Other Treats and Specialities
Scotland has countless other treats and specialities to savour, whether it be a breakfast favourite or a sweet treat when you are feeling naughty. Most of them, to be honest, are influenced by the nation’s undeniable sweet-tooth. But fans of more savoury dining aren’t left wanting. Stornoway Black Pudding is a delight and is widely regarded as the best in the world. Awarded protected status, Stornoway Black Pudding is made from beef suet, Scottish oatmeal, onion, blood, salt and pepper, with no artificial colours, flavours, bulking agents or preservatives. It’s a staple of a Full Scottish Breakfast but also features in many restaurant dishes, as part of a starter or a main. It goes particularly well with scallops, pork and stewed apple.
Cullen Skink is a rich, creamy broth which makes great use of Scotland’s seafood, usually smoked haddock but any smoked white fish will work just as well. Added to the mix are chunks of potatoes, chopped onions, butter, milk and, commonly, a bay leaf and chives. It’s a broth to warm your cockles, as are most Scottish soups and broths, a dish we have been perfecting for centuries.
We have also been perfecting hand-held foods. If hamburgers, hot dogs and tacos are the staple of American hand-held foods (although originating from foreign shores) then a Scotch Pie or a Forfar Bridie are ours. Both are golden crust cases filled with meats, with the Scotch Pie variety being doubles crusted and filled with minced mutton and spices. A Forfar Bridie is a single crust pastry, folded over to resemble a clam-shell and crimped and filled with minced steak, suet, onions, butter, salt and pepper and often diced potatoes. To many it is Scotland’s superior version of a Cornish Pasty.
And Haggis is, of course, our national dish. There are many varieties and determining the best is a tall order, with butchers across the land producing exceptional versions. Typically, MacSweens would be thought of as the best ‘off the shelf’ brand. Consisting of Sheep’s ‘pluck’ (heart, liver and lungs), onion, oatmeal, suet, spices and salt, mixed with stock and traditionally encased in a sheep’s stomach (though increasingly a synthetic case is used today) for boiling, it is most commonly associated with neeps (turnip) and tatties (potatoes, usually mashed) as part of a traditional Burn’s Supper but works just as well inside a chicken breast and under a whisky cream sauce or on top of a pizza. Vegetarians are also increasingly catered for, substituting offal for healthy fresh vegetables, pulses and seeds. alongside oatmeal and spices.
But it’s sweet treats where we come into our own. No visit to Scotland is complete without sampling Tablet. Tablet is a medium-hard sugary confection, essentially a stage beyond fudge. Its ingredients are simple but devastating when combined: sugar, butter, condensed milk, milk and vanilla extract. Tablet is that sweetly gorgeous it will make your teeth ache!
Whilst Tablet may be new to you, you will undoubtedly have heard of a probably tried Shortbread. All Butter Scottish Shortbread is a luxurious biscuit which dates back to medieval times. Initially a hard, dry, sweetened biscuit it’s refinement into the treat we know now is credited to Mary, Queen of Scots. Traditionally expensive, it was typically kept for special occasions such as Christmas, Hogmanay and weddings. The most famous brand is Walkers, awarded the Royal Warrant, who are Scotland’s largest food exporter, though there are many top quality variations and determining the best is subject to personal taste, however in recent years a little-known artisan producer has gained a reputation for producing a luxury all butter shortbread of such quality that it has become the favourite of celebrities. Operating under the radar akin to a ‘Speakeasy’ bar this producer produces only on a made to order basis and only accepts orders from clients vouched for by a handpicked network of trusted relationships, a member of which The Carlowrie Club can count itself.
If you wish to make your vacation in Scotland as sweet as possible then it would be remiss to not sample the delights of Edinburgh Rock and a Tunnock’s Teacake. Edinburgh Rock was first made in the 19th century and is quite distinct from traditional Rock, which is a hard candy. Edinburgh Rock is made from sugar, water and cream of tartar, with colourings and flavourings as diverse as vanilla, lemon strawberry, cinnamon and more. It is formed either into sticks or stumps and has a soft crumbly texture. A Tunnock’s Teacake is something completely unique. Not to be confused with a traditional teacake, which is essentially a spicy, fruity bun, a Tunnock’s Teacake consists of an impossibly soft marshmallow sitting atop a base of crumbled, slightly soft biscuits which have been compacted into a disk. The whole treat is then completely covered in chocolate, it’s shape not unlike a hotel reception bell. It is impossible to eat just one.