In Edinburgh, Mellis monger Elizabeth Davidson plied me with over a dozen samples of Scottish cheese. The store on the Great Western Road in Glascow was my final stop before flying home. There, Sandra Tolmie provided me with a choice selection to evaluate back in the States.
I had narrowed my request to a half dozen that particularly reflected Scottish terroir. Terroir, a term most commonly associated with wine, is the suggestion of a specific locale based on the aroma, taste and texture. It is a sum total of environmental factors: soil, rainfall, air, grass or feed ingested by the animal, the micro-organisms introduced into the milk or cheese. But terroir also reflects culture in terms of unique handling procedures and ingredients. In Scotland, an ingredient of huge cultural importance is whisky. Some artisan cheesemakers find ways to incorporate their national distillate in various ways, such as washing the rind in whisky or smoking cheese over the wood of a whisky barrel.
If you’re looking for cheese distinctively Scottish, here is a list of my favorites.
Isle of Mull is a “Cheddar” aged 18 months and made from the raw milk of cows fed on spent whisky grains from a local distillery. In Scotland, it was fishy or briny on the nose and palate, reflecting the maritime environment. Time and travel tended to bring out pickle notes, later more of a buttermilk quality. This is the only one of the four cheeses that I’ve found in the States…so far.
Corra Linn, made in Lanarkshire and aged approximately six to12 months, is a hard cheese made from unpasteurized ewe’s milk. Think ewe Cheddar. It initially amused my nose as ‘sheep on ice’ with undernotes of must, brine and butter. On the palate, it had a slightly oily to gummy polenta texture with sweet acids. Nut notes emerged as it dried on the tongue.
Westry Wife is a remarkably non-stinky, washed rind type from the remote Orkney Islands, made of cow’s milk and aged 12 months. It is semi-hard and somewhat alpine. With grass on the nose, it’s farmy, yes, yet not aggressively barnyard. On the palate, it was smooth, buttery and sweet, with just enough salinity.
Auld Reekie. A name for Edinburgh, this cheese is from Aberdeenshire. Made from raw cow’s milk, it’s then smoked for two days over the wood of old whisky barrels.
Aberdeenshire. Made from raw cow’s milk, it’s then smoked for two days over the wood of old whisky barrels. Savor the smokiness on the nose and palate.