Posts Tagged ‘Scotland’

Of Ice Cream In Dumfries and Galloway

Saturday, July 31st, 2010

My blog posts about Dumfries and Galloway would not be complete without talking about Cream O’Galloway, an ice cream producer between Gatehouse of Fleet and Kirkcudbright.  We seem to spend much of our family holiday centred around their farm at Rainton, where they have developed a tasteful and sustainable attraction around the Cream O’Galloway ice cream factory experience.

Cream O'Galloway Visitor Centre

Cream O'Galloway Visitor Centre

There are indoor wooden play areas for under 6s and older children, as well as outdoor climbing areas in the woods pitched at varying degrees of skill, athleticism, ranging from the simple to the hard work – I am no longer as agile as I once was so Level 4 is too much bending down, twisting and turning and scrabbling through tunnels for me; I actually do think it is easier for people below 4 foot in height as that’s the level of the holes and obstacles have been built for.  Then there are tracks for mountain biking past the wind turbine, zip wires, chutes, and a race track for go-carts, as well as nature trails and gentle ambles. 

Cream O’Galloway also have farm tours, pond dipping, ice cream making sessions (my third year in a row and this year we made vanilla, honeycomb and chocolate chip flavour ice cream) and ice cream tasting sessions as well as other nature tours later in the year when the tourists and holiday-makers become less evident.  In 2009, we bought a year’s pass and this year (2010) we got a week pass for the second week, which are both really good value and are worth it if you will be visiting more than about 4 and 2 times, respectively. 

Karting At Cream O'Galloway

Karting At Cream O'Galloway

The kids love it so we love it.  The tea could be better and after one week an alternative to burgers would be great, but we did discover the veggie burger this year which was a welcome break for meat, meat and meat.  My favourite burger is the double Mexican burger; most of their burgers I think are better as singles, but with the Mexican you can put a dollop of spicy guacamole, tomato salsa and soured cream in the middle, which is totally fabulous.  As I have already said, it is worth a trip out of your way to track down their organic, 21 day matured steaks that you can get in the cafe area before going into the main attraction.

Then, their ice cream is, also, worth a special detour to taste and savour.  Oh and everything is organic and some is also Fairtrade.

Cream O’Galloway is a really successful farmer’s diversification scheme.  The farm, Rainton Farm, is a dairy farm with a smallish herd of Ayrshire kine.  The farm went organic with the Soil Association many years ago and is at the forefront of ethical, organic dairy farming, so for example they are currently building a new milking parlour and anearobic digester, while they are the only commercial dairy herd that keeps the mother and calf together for the first 6+ months and milks the mother only once a day rather than twice a day.  The milk is delicious as it comes from a grass fed cows and an ocean air pasture, so the milk is the dairy equivalent of salt marsh lamb.  Most of the milk gets sold into one of the dairy groups, so finding its way into the major supermarkets, mixed in with other milks.

Rainton Farm Herd At Cream O'Galloway

Rainton Farm Herd At Cream O'Galloway

Dairy At Rainton For Cream O'Galloway

Dairy At Rainton For Cream O'Galloway

Some of the fresh, unpasteurised milk is taken every morning after the morning milking to the ice cream factory which is just in a small converted threshing barn.  In fact, it is remarkably small and compact, full of gleaming stainless steel machines and vats; the milk is pasteurised before it goes into the vats and ice cream machines as part of the manufacturing process.

The ice cream is tasty and there is a great range of flavours, with all of it using their organic milk (but not all certified as organic) and some of it Fairtrade as well.  Our family’s favourite flavours are:

You can get quite a lot of their flavours in some of the supermarkets in Scotland, such as Morrisons and Tesco and then loads of independent stores – use their stockist finder to locate your nearest one.

We still rank the Cream O’Galloway centre in our family top ice cream parlours as in an earlier blog.

Of Meat In Dumfries And Galloway

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

21/7/2010 – I am sitting here at a table overlooking a glorious lake; not some picture postcard view across Lake Como in brilliant sunshine, but a grey, overcast day with some low lying wispy clouds moving slowly across the conifer plantations opposite me as I look across Loch Ken between Castle Douglas and New Galloway.  Soaring up in the sky there is a red kite, and sometimes you can even see ospreys around here.  I am watching my son sailing with what little wind there is over the loch.  It is your normal British style holiday – activity by the water, or over the dales or over climbing frames.  In the background, I can hear screams of fun and joy as four families battle it out in the laser quest battlefield beside us.  But at least it is currently dry, but probably will start to rain when I go out kayaking this afternoon.

Boats On Loch Ken

Boats On Loch Ken

So I turn my thoughts to other hidden foodie secrets of this wonderful part of Scotland.

Firstly, one that isn’t worth it.  Castle Douglas bills itself as a foodie town, but it’s all a bit of a let down, so other than a decent butcher (Hendersons – good for sausages), a goodish deli/chocolate shop (In House Chocolates) and Tesco, don’t get overexcited about the hype.

However, on Saturdays in Gatehouse of Fleet, they hold a small farmers’ market with a bigger one on the first Saturday of each month.  Last Saturday was the smaller version and it was belting it down when we were there with a few others.  Jen Hen’s is a stall that sells eggs – surprise, surprise – from a flock of mixed hens on a farm near Tongland.  Then, there’s Wigwam Bakery, which was the reason I was here bright and early, as last year when I pottered down the hill, her small selection of beautiful hand-baked goods had all been sold.  I was especially after her Roman Spelt bread and Maslan Bread (a mix of 50:50 white to wholemeal bread using a rye sourdough base), plus she does a goodly variety of other breads, including one called Aphrodite with seeds and things.  Susie had a great selection of sweet baked goods and people were busy trying to get her delicious chocolate cake, while I went for two of her cookies that are a health meal in themselves, packed full of amazing seeds.  You can tell she has a reputation as the locals all queue from her stall early and even on that bitterly cold Saturday.

Then, there was the mobile butcher’s shop, Wullie’s, which is the shop for Wm. Lindsay in Creetown.  I bought some lamb chops from Willie, but really was there to ask him about salt-marsh lamb as I had spotted last year (and this) a flock of sheep on the salt marshes beside Creetown.  Sure enough, he gets 6 lambs every year “for the English” in mid August, but told me he preferred the “blackies from the hills” which he gets in late August/ early September.  I said I would ring him in August about the salt-marsh lamb, so I will keep you posted if I succeed with that.

Sheep On Salt Marshes Near Creetown

Sheep On Salt Marshes Near Creetown

Blackie Sheep On Hills In Dumfries And Galloway

Blackie Sheep On Hills In Dumfries And Galloway

Amazing Horns On Blackie Ram In Cairnsmore Hills

Amazing Horns On Blackie Ram In Cairnsmore Hills

Other than that I had been hunting around for decent meat, which there is little to come by at this time of year, what with lambs being out of season.  The two places I have found good meat are Barstobrick Farm Shop and Cream O’Galloway.  Barstobrick is a fairly soulless site with an equestrian centre, some walks and holiday cabins, plus a dreary cafe and farm shop; however, they do sell their own meat within the farm shop.  It is Aberdeen Angus beef, reared on the farm and slaughtered at their own butchery.  Robin & Hilary Austin then let the meat mature for 21 days before it is packed and sealed and frozen on site.  They sell fillet and sirloin steak, as well as beef sausages and beef-burgers.  We went for the sirloin steak (£24.99/kg), which had great marbling and a lovely deep, brown-red  hue.  We tasted it that night, fried simply in butter to medium-rare and eaten with new potatoes and runner beans; it was deliciously meaty with a sweet hint of grassiness, while your knife just glided through the meat with no problem.  They were really good and worth the visit to this otherwise unprepossessing place.

Sirloin Steaks From Barstobrick Farm Shop

Sirloin Steaks From Barstobrick Farm Shop

At Cream O’Galloway, they butcher some of their Ayrshire dairy herd for meat for their burgers that they serve within the cafe area.  They are delicious burgers (as well as organic) and are made on site; I have had pretty much every type of burger they do over the last three years, with my favourite being the double Mexican burger, where I put a mix of the guacamole, soured cream and salsa between the burgers and then enjoy.  They use decent bread rolls for the burgers, overcoming one of my major bugbears about many burger joints in the UK.  Sometimes, hidden between all the pots of organic ice cream (I’ll talk about those in a separate blog), you can get a few fillet steaks (or other cuts) in one of the freezers before you go into the main activity centre.

We bought a couple of fillet steaks that had a deep red-brown colour and were decently marbled; they were also nicely thick at about an inch or so.  They cost £30/kg and are worth every penny.  We lightly fried the Cream O’Galloway fillet steaks (sold as Rainton Farm which is the name of the farm while the brand I am using is strictly speaking for the ice cream).  We ate them with new potatoes, broccoli for the kids and tomato salad for Sophie and me.  They were heavenly: and were perfect “melt in you mouth meat” as our daughter called them – you knife just sliced through as if you were cutting through silk, and the taste was a rich, luxurious, umami taste of healthy, well-reared meat; you got the sweetness of the organic grass together with the pure salty air off the Solway Firth.  Everyone’s plates were quickly emptied to sounds of “more please?”, but as for Oliver there was no more to be had, except that we had scoffed it all.

Fillet Steaks From Rainton Farm In Dumfries And Galloway

Fillet Steaks From Rainton Farm In Dumfries And Galloway

Rainton Farm steaks are one of the best meats that I have ever come across and if you can ever get close to the Gatehouse Of Fleet area, I urge you to make the detour, as this is one of those amazingly awesome food sources that you stumble across once in a while.

Of Cheese In Dumfries And Galloway

Sunday, July 25th, 2010
Big Water Of Fleet Bridge

Big Water Of Fleet Bridge

(19/7/2010) Up the Water of Fleet, you get to Cairnsmore of Fleet Nature Reserve and the Clints of Dromore, which is not only a wonderfully romantic name for some hills but also a decent-sized hill that you can walk up in no time, or along and around, getting towards a beautiful brick old railway bridge called the Big Water of Fleet Viaduct that seems sort of out of place up here, but it was about a mile east of Gatehouse of Fleet Station and appears in Dorothy L. Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey book “Five Red Herrings”.  “Five Red Herrings” looms, also, over the drive between Gatehouse of Fleet and Kirkcudbright as it was somewhere along that road that the dastardly murder took place amongst the fictional artistic community of the area; it is a good, light read, even if not here best novel.  Up on Cairnsmore of Fleet, you can see a wide variety of birds, including peregrines, if you’re lucky, and adders basking in the sun.  The other things you see around here are sheep and Galloway cows.   This brings me on to cheese.  (Sorry that was a bit of a strained intro).

I had always wanted to visit Loch Arthur Creamery at Beeswing near Dalbeattie.  Don’t you love the quaint name of the place – is it a bee’s favourite style of music or a part of bees?  Loch Arthur Creamery is part of the simply awesome Camphill Village Trust, which follows Steiner ideas and seeks to create places for those with disabilities to live a normal life and not be hampered by people like you and me.  So here at Loch Arthur, they run a farm and make, inter alia, organic biodynamic cheese, as well as running a fabulous shop.  You are greeted by a wondrously colourful display of fruit & veg, which in an area that seems curiously devoid of decent vegetables, and so seeing us resort uncomfortably to the delights of Tesco in Castle Douglas and Kirkcudbright, was a blessing and made me smile.  Then in the shop, they have a good selection of organic ambient foods and chilled meats and cheese.  We also bought some locally made spelt and seeded breads, as well as being tempted by the chocolate and orange cake that literally came out of the oven as we were there and was still deliciously warm; the cake was to die for – rich and chocolaty with a subtle hint of citrus.  Perfect.

Organic Vegetables Display At Loch Arthur Farm Shop

Organic Vegetables Display At Loch Arthur Farm Shop

Inside Loch Arthur Creamery Organic Shop

Inside Loch Arthur Creamery Organic Shop

But we were here for the cheese.  They make this on site; in fact we could see them washing down the factory through a clear window behind the counter.  They have a cheddar-like Farmhouse Cheese, as well as their little stars (in fact roundels of cheese) called Crannog.  Crannog are 10cm in diameter and have a white waxy exterior and the cheese inside is creamy-white and slightly soft like a chilled butter.  We bought the standard cheese and a green peppercorn cheese, as well as their hand-churned butter.  Both were wonderfully creamy and had that sweet, earthy taste that comes from cheese made from milk that is produced naturally from rich, organic grass, and which is faintly reminiscent of a good Wensleydale.  Somehow high street, mass-produced cheese seems more fatty and greasy with none of the flavours or tastes that should come through from the field, i.e. just texture and then…nothingness.  We also enjoyed the delicious rich and creamy butter that when eaten on good, wholesome spelt bread was a meal in itself; industrial food just does not have this body or richness, as I suppose stuff is taken out to help processing, improve consistency and functionality (my absolutely, most hated food term).

Loch Arthur Cheese, Butter and Chocolate Cake

Loch Arthur Cheese, Butter and Chocolate Cake

Organic Crannog With Green Pepper on Oatcake

Organic Crannog With Green Pepper on Oatcake

The other local cheese is Cairnsmore cheese from Galloway Farmhouse Cheese at Millaires, Sorbie by Newton Stewart.  They have organic cheese made from cows, ewes and goats milk, but as they have a sheep them I reckon that the ewe cheese is their love.  We bought the cheese as quarters off a larger block.  The cheese is a cream colour with a good, flaky bite and none of that yucky, plasticky, greasy texture from industrial cheese.  The cheese has a delicate earthiness that’s less intense that the Loch Arthur Creamery cheese, but seems a bit sweeter and with a delicate salty, peatiness coming through.  I liked the cows’ cheese a lot, but the ewe cheese had a lanoliny richness that felt slightly akin to a cross between manchega and parmesan cheese, but with a creaminess and more depth of character.

The tasting notes from my notebook were:

  • Standard Crannog – soft, velvety, with smooth but earthy cow’s taste that you don’t get with high street cheese – a certain comforting taste of sweet grass, reminiscent of fresh smells and tastes of dairy behind Broomley School in Stocksfield (long gone as now a housing estate) or from dairy farms in Bavaria on hols years ago.
  • Green Pepper Crannog – as Standard Crannog, but light, frivolous warmth of pepper offsets bitterness of earthy, cowiness → delicious.  A truly great, old fashioned real cheese.
  • Cairnsmore Cheese (ewe) – strong texture with some crumbly flakiness.  Creamy with rich taste and light but definite sweet earthy flavour and a damp, peaty taste and a sea-like saltiness.  Great.

We tasted the cheeses on their own and on plain oatcakes from M. Corson (Bakers) at Castle Douglas, with and without butter from Loch Arthur Creamery.  These oatcakes were simple with a good oaty flavour and a decent bite to them and none of that soft, crumbliness that you often get; oatcakes should be quite tough and be able to last aeons.  Another local maker is Cairnsmhor Fine Foods in Dalbeattie but these were a bit crumblier and saltier, which would probably work better from most people, but I preferred the tougher, simpler ones from M. Corson (Bakers) which is on the High Street in Castle Douglas – I guess that’s the puritan in me coming through.

Of Fish In Dumfries And Galloway

Friday, July 23rd, 2010
Cairnsmore Of Fleet

Cairnsmore Of Fleet

(17/7/2010) We are on our annual family holiday, which as for the last three years has been in Dumfries & Galloway near Gatehouse of Fleet; no overseas travel or glamorous trips for us – in fact, the Steenberg family has been holidaying around here for many, many years with my childhood spent around Gatehouse of Fleet and at Rockcliffe while my father would stay around Castramon Wood (see note i below) around the second world war.  It is a part of the world that time, and the scourges of modernity, have passed by with its untouched and beautiful valleys and hills, full of ancient woods and gushing, roiling streams with brown, peaty water.  It is part of the world that has hardly changed since it was immortalised in John Buchan’s “The Thirty-Nine Steps”.

There are red squirrels feeding off the bird feeders outside the kitchen window, as well as a family of six baby jays – I do not think I have ever seen so many jays in one place ever before as they are usually the bossy, but pretty, crow that spoils the feeding party around a bird table.  Oh and there are loads of sheep; black faced sheep in the hills and others on the salt marshes near Creetown, with magnificent, one-and-a-half foot long twisted horns on the tups.  But it is quiet and there is no light pollution and still very few people; it’s a bit like North Northumberland, a place where people drive through on the way somewhere else, so leaving it unspoiled.  Real, ancient Britain.  Here, people drive on to Stranraer and to Northern Ireland or the Isle Of Man or on to the Highlands and Islands, while in Northumberland it’s a journey through to Edinburgh.

There is, also, a lot of sea.  And so fish.  In Kirkcudbright Harbour, it is good to see a proper working fleet of fishing boats, as well as the Solway firth still full of traditional fixed fishing nets along the shoreline and a few fisherman still fishing with coble and nets.  Both of the latter are types of fishing stretching back to the Vikings and beyond.  On 14th July, even the Queen and Prince Philip came to see the fishermen in Kirkcudbright which is famed for its scallops, visiting on a rainy thundery afternoon between visiting Dumfries and onwards to Edinburgh (for the annual dinner of the Order of The Thistle and to award the Duke Of Edinburgh medals last week).

Fishing Boat In Kirkcudbright Harbour

Fishing Boat In Kirkcudbright Harbour

Traditional Fishing Nets In Solway Firth

Traditional Fishing Nets In Solway Firth

The Queen Visiting Kirkcudbright in 2010

The Queen Visiting Kirkcudbright Harbour Square

In the harbour square at Kirkcudbright, there is a fishmonger and grocery shop, attached to a traditional fish and chip shop called Polarbites.  The fishmonger side is good for vegetables (there are not actually that many decent places for veg around here), as well as selling great scallops, prawns, salmon and Loch Fyne kippers amongst other things.  On one day, we bought Loch Fyne kippers, prawns and some salmon steaks, which I poached in rosé wine and we all ate with new potatoes and freshly picked salad leaves from friends of ours who live in the middle of nowhere outside Dalbeattie. 

Traditional Fish And Chips At Polarbites In Kirkcudbright

Traditional Fish And Chips At Polarbites In Kirkcudbright

On 15th July, we supped on haddock, chips, mushy peas and a seafood platter (battered prawns, scallops, squid, cod and potato wedges) at Polarbites, and it was a feast of fresh fish tastes and good batter.  It was welcomly warming on the cold, damp first night of the Kirkcudbright Summer Festivities, where Scottish music and dances are performed every Thursday evening in the Harbour Square to the glorious backdrop of MacLellan Castle and the Harbour.  I love the sound of a proper marching pipe band and the Kirkcudbright & District Pipe Band is really good and is growing in popularity, now even boasting a full youth band this year for the first time.

Kirkcudbright Pipe Band

Kirkcudbright Pipe Band

Galloway Smokehouse Near Carsluith

Galloway Smokehouse At Carsluith In Dumfries & Galloway

But the best fish experiences are from two fantastic smokeries on the road between Gatehouse of Fleet and Creetown.  We went for a short trip to both – the first is the Galloway Smokehouse which operates a fantastic fishmonger as well as smoking fish, seafood and some meats on site, and the second is the Marrbury Smokehouse at Carsluith Castle, which is at such a romantic location beside this simple, small castle overlooking the sea across to Whithorn that it ranks as one of my favourite places for anything anywhere.  My daughter and I bought various things including smoked wild salmon from both, as well as kippers from Marrbury SmokehouseEn famille we did a taste test and, while both smoked salmons were of great quality, the Marrbury Smoked Salmon is a damn fine smoked salmon and won hands down, having a deep orangey-pink hue and a delicious, dry and rich meaty taste, made of fantastic chunky pieces of muscle giving a great texture and a delicate smoky, piney-junipery taste.  The smoked salmon from the Galloway Smokehouse was a bit sweeter, slimier and the colour pinker and less orange in colour, with much smaller muscle structure and so a soggier, softer texture, but still way better than your usual, mass-produced stuff that you find on most supermarket shelves.  We also did a taste test on the kippers and we think that the Loch Fyne Kippers and those of Marrbury Smokehouse are up there amongst the best I have ever tasted (those from Seahouses are still, for me, the epitome of smoked kippers).  Costs are £51/kg for the Marrbury Smokehouse Wild Smoked Salmon and £50.00/kg for the Galloway Smokehouse Wild Smoked Salmon, and that extra £1 is worth a million.

Marrbury Smokehouse At Carsluith Castle

Marrbury Smokehouse At Carsluith Castle

Scottish Smoked Salmon On Spelt Bread

Scottish Smoked Salmon On Spelt Bread

Scottish Kippers From Loch Fyne

Scottish Kippers From Loch Fyne

Also, I love the commitment and love that goes into the Marrbury Smokehouse.  Vincent Marr goes out in his coble and nets the wild salmon himself from pools between Newton Stewart and Wigtown, then he smokes the salmon and other things himself (allowing no-one else into the smoker, except his wife sometimes) to his own special recipe; the ingredients include salt, whisky and juniper smoke whereas the Galloway Smokehouse also uses some sugar syrup and an oak smoke rather than juniper.  This means that his smoked fish and seafood is only available in small quantities, with no corners cut, but on the downside there is no-one to pass his expertise on to.  He has a step daughter who lives in the Cayman Islands, which will not help us for the future.  It’s a hard life that few will really want to follow in the future.

If you can get hold of smoked salmon or other things from either of these smokeries it is well worth the effort, but go for the Marrbury Smokehouse out of preference as it’s worth going that extra mile.  I will retry the salmon poached in rosé wine again when back in Yorkshire, as I reckon that it would be great finished off with a pink peppercorn sauce, don’t you think?

(i)                  Castramom Wood is an ancient woodland on a steep slope on the east bank of the Water of Fleet.  We always imagine it full of tigers to urge the kids along through its dense bracken.  Castramom Wood is chock full of old, native trees like mighty oaks, birch, mystical alder and ash and there are charcoal burning stands at various points through the woods.  This is an old, spiritual wood with a great, life giving aura.