…in search of Cullen Skink, Beef, Lobster, Venison, Whisky and a purely Scottish G&T.
WRITTEN BY VIVIEN DEVLIN
In his 1930s novel, Gibbon looked back to his childhood in the Mearns, Aberdeenshire, as a poignant evocation, a love song for the landscape, language and farming life. North East Scotland is renowned for its rich agricultural and fishing heritage, synonymous with Aberdeen Angus beef and seafood from the North Sea.
It’s also home to the spirit of Scotland where whisky production is based on natural resources – toasted barley, water from mountain streams and smoky peat from the moorland.
The Aberdeen-Angus breed developed from the early 19th century from black cattle known locally as “doddies” and “hummlies.”
Hugh Watson of Keillor Farm, the McCombies at Tillyfour and Sir George Macpherson-Grant of Ballindalloch were the early pioneers in establishing the greatest beef breed in the world, known for its tender, flavoursome meat. The region is a picturesque tourism destination with its rolling countryside, fast flowing rivers, dolphin watching, golf courses, Royal castles and whisky distilleries. Stay awhile to explore and sample exemplary cuisine around the Luxury Scotland collection of hotels. At The Marcliffe, Aberdeen, The Conservatory Restaurant specialises in chargrilled beef, from fillet steak to chateaubriand, supplied by McIntosh Donald, Portlethen, butchers dating back for 100 years.
The seafood menu boasts local lobster caught by Jonathan Penny and langoustines landed by Jimmy Buchan, the Skipper of Amity Fish Company.
Peterhead is Europe’s largest white fish seaport, while Fraserburgh specialises in shellfish, with numerous fishing harbours all around the coastline.
In bygone days, the Scottish Herring Lassies salted, gutted and packed the Silver Darlings from port to port.
The Dee is one of the best salmon rivers in the world – 3,000 caught this season already, including the prime Pacific Pink salmon. Anglers also fish for salmon and brown trout on the River Don. John Ross Jr, (Aberdeen) produces hand Smoked Salmon and holds a Royal Warrant as fish merchants for Her Majesty the Queen – Balmoral Castle on Royal Deeside is the Scottish family summer palace. Venison and game are also sourced and exported widely from Highland estates, such as Mortlach Game specialising in wild roe deer, red deer venison, rabbit, wood pigeon, partridge and pheasant.
At Boath House on the Moray coast, the cuisine is based on local produce: Rabbit with black pudding, Halibut, Saddle of Roe Deer, Bramble Clafoutis and Cheese, such as Connage Clava Brie, “smooth, silky, buttery with a unique grassy flavour.” Guests may also enjoy wine and cheese tastings at Connage farm dairy. Peter Muskus supplies organically reared lamb which is roasted for Sunday lunch. Seasonal plums, apples, herbs, vegetables as well as honey and eggs are all sourced from Boath’s magnificent garden. Aberdeenshire speciality foods include a Rowie, a bread roll like a flattened, round croissant with a salty taste, Dean’s shortbread and Mackie’s Ice-cream. Founded in 2007 by two young men (and a dog), with a passion for craft beer, Brewdog now employs 750 people and runs 46 bars around the world.
A traditional hearty dish is Cullen Skink, a thick Scottish soup made of smoked haddock, potatoes and onions, similar to Clam Chowder.
Originating from Cullen on the Moray coastline, the broth was originally made with beef scrapings but in the late 19th century this was too expensive, so fish was used instead. The fifth Cullen Skink World championships took place in November 2017 to find the best recipe.
Cardhu (the only one developed by a woman) creates a single malt as well as the world-famous Johnnie Walker blend. On a guided tour, learn all about the individual character, nose and texture of each distinctive Scotch. “The Secret Malts of Aberdeenshire” is a group of smaller distilleries – Ardmore, Fettercairn, Knockdhu and, located on the coast, Glenglassaugh whisky which evokes the taste of the sea. The Clavis Whisky Bar at MacLeod House, offers around 200 regional and rare single malts. An informative tasting menu takes you on a journey around Scotland by the dram, and you can join the Connoisseur Whisky Membership.
At The Dunes Restaurant and Bar the menu includes beer-battered Peterhead haddock and Aberdeen Angus Trump burger, ideal for hungry golfers; Fine dining cuisine (beef, game, seafood), is served in the North View Restaurant. The kitchen garden provides fresh vegetables and Highland cattle are reared on the Trump Estate.
If you take the eastern section of the NC500 to Dunnet in Caithness, you will find Dunnet Bay Distillers who produce the most amazing gin and vodka.
Whereas most distillers produce large quantities of the same liquor, Dunnet Bay produce small quantities of different gins and vodkas. Each bottle is filled, hand waxed, batch numbered and signed before it leaves the distillery. Rock Rose Gin and Holy Grass Vodka are to be found in all the best places, including, of course, our Luxury Scotland hotels. Each year a new vintage is produced using local botanicals so that the flavour changes over time. The botanical used for Holy Grass Vodka used to be put on church floors to give a sweet, vanilla smell when walked over.
The annual North-East Scotland Food & Drink Awards are open to food and drink producers based in Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire and oray, to recognise excellence in farm produce and encourage innovative new companies. Best Young Business winner 2017 is Fierce Beer whose motto is flavour, quality, provenance; Gordon Castle Walled Garden was voted Best Food Tourism Experience with home grown produce from garden to plate. For Best New Product, the award was presented to Walter Gregor’s Tonic Water. Summerhouse Drinks (noted for their range of real lemonades) has been extremely innovative to embrace the flourishing Scottish gin market to create Walter Gregor’s Tonic Water, handcrafted on Manse Farm, Aberdeenshire. The natural ingredients include citrus, quinine and carbonated Scottish water.
But who is Walter Gregor? He was a Minister of the Parish in Pitsligo from 1863, as well as being a folklorist, academic and lover of plants. The key botanicals selected for the Tonic are grown in Gregor’s former garden at the Manse. What better way to toast the high quality of the region’s cuisine and hospitality than with an artisan-crafted Scottish Gin and Tonic. This reflects the traditions of the past combined with new creative, culinary ventures to entice visitors to experience the true taste of the north and north east of Scotland.