A Tasting Menu: How To Make The Most Of Scotland's Year Of Food And Drink 2015

11 December 2014

Move over bagpipes, Braveheart, kilts and tartan; Scotland’s natural larder and unique gastronomy will take centre stage during the Year of Food and Drink 2015. The island nation is just bursting with mouth-watering temptations from the rolling hills to the ice-cold North Sea. Embark on your own Scottish culinary journey with our ‘tasting menu’ of this great land.

Amuse Bouche

Farmers’ markets


Like the bite-sized morsels served at the beginning of a tasting menu, farmers’ markets are a great place to whet your appetite, and be introduced to a destination’s fare. A favourite of locals and visitors alike, farmers’ markets have become a regular fixture in Scotland since the 1990s.

Marketplaces overflow with everything from game meats and artisan chocolate to homemade preserves and freshly brewed beers. Sample your way through Scottish regions, join cooking demonstrations and even pick up goodies to enjoy later.

One of Scotland’s largest farmers’ markets is the weekly, award-winning pop-up in Edinburgh where you can browse gourmet stalls set amidst the dramatic backdrop of Edinburgh Castle. From the beautiful border town of Kelso to charming Dumfries and bustling Glasgow, you’re never too far from one of these local events.

Haggis, Neeps and Tatties

The national dish

 Haggis, neeps and tatties (credit: Getty Images)

The mere thought of Scotland’s national dish, haggis, may be enough to turn your stomach, but you can’t knock it til’ you try it. Surprisingly delicious, this savoury sausage of offal mixed with suet, oatmeal, onions and spices is the perfect accompaniment to a meal, no matter the time of day – just try not to think about what’s in it.

Crispy rounds of haggis sit proudly alongside morning bacon and eggs, and with the addition of creamy whisky sauce and neeps and tatties (that’s mashed turnips and potatoes to you), the delicacy also makes for a great dinner starter.

Revered poet and National Bard, Robert Burns dedicated his 1787 poem, Address to a Haggis, to this spicy sausage so it’s no surprise it’s a regular fixture on menus around his birthplace, Ayrshire. Pay Ayrshire a visit on 25 January for Burns Night to join in the musical, comedic, crafty and culinary celebrations of the Burns an’ a’ that! Festival.

From the sea...

The Seafood Trail, east coast, Arbroath Smokies

 Arbroath Smokies (credit: Getty Images)

With a coastline that stretches 16,000 kilometres, a generous portion of Scottish produce comes from the sea. Loch Fyne Oyster Bar in Cairndow is an established favourite, but it’s just one stop on the Scottish Seafood Trail that takes in Michelin-starred menus and relaxed seaside eateries on the west coast.

On the east, the quaint fishing villages of East Neuk in Fife are famed for their daily catches straight off the trawlers. For award-winning fish and chips, head straight to Anstruther Fish Bar. If you’re planning on cooking your own feast, Pittenweem Fish Market is bursting with freshly-caught ingredients.

For a true taste of Scottish seafood, head north to Arbroath for a front-row seat at Arbroath Smokies where racks of haddock are smoked to perfection over open fire beneath layers of hessian sacking. Eat straight from the barrel overlooking the water for the ultimate experience.

...To the land

Aberdeen Angus beef, North Ronaldsay lamb, seasonal game

 An Aberdeen Angus eye fillet (credit: Getty Images)

A rich flavour and fine marble is the hallmark of a good Aberdeen Angus steak. Reared from cattle native to Dundee, Angus and Aberdeenshire, this beef is celebrated worldwide. If you haven’t had the pleasure of effortlessly slicing through an Aberdeen Angus fillet, restaurants across Aberdeen City and Shire showcase this quality meat in the finest fashion.

To Scotland’s north are the Orkney isles, where you’ll not only find appetising seafood and beef, but also the famous North Ronaldsay lamb. This breed resides by the sea and grazes on seaweed, which lends the lamb a unique flavour – a must-try for anyone visiting the island.

The country’s bountiful countryside is home to a variety of game. Venison is particularly good from the Highlands and you can find it served throughout the country. Game birds like pheasant and partridge (as in, ‘in a pear tree’), are the perfect winter fare – try Restaurant Martin Wishart in Edinburgh’s Leith.

The cheese course

Scottish Cheese Trail

 A cheese stand in Edinburgh (credit: Getty Images)

From large Cheddar creameries to artisan producers, Scotland’s cool climate and geography serves as perfect foil for cheese-making. British cheesemonger, Iain Mellis has gourmet emporiums in Edinburgh, Glasgow and St Andrews where you can taste your way through local and regional variations. You’ll sniff out the pungent perfume of these stores before you see them!

For those that prefer to visit the cheese makers directly, the Scottish Cheese Trail will awaken connoisseurs to new flavours and provide a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the production of these creamy creations.

The trail stretches from the Orkney Islands to Islay and Locherbie to Stranraer. Try the famous ewe’s milk Lanark Blue at Errington Cheese in Carnwath and soak up the views of the countryside with a cheese plate at St Andrews Farmhouse Cheese Co in Pittenweem.

Dessert

Berries, bannock, boiled sweets

 Berry picking in Blairgowrie (credit: Getty Images)

And now to appease the sweet tooths. During summer, farms around Blairgowrie in Perthshire (along with Fife and Angus) invite visitors to pick their own juicy strawberries, raspberries, currants and gooseberries. You may even be lucky enough to sink your teeth into the intensely sweet tayberry, a hybrid of the raspberry and blackberry.

Utilising these luscious berries, Cranachan is a Scottish dessert traditionally consumed around harvest time or on special occasions, but you can find it year-round in restaurants all over the country. Similar to Britain’s Eton Mess, Cranachan is a mixture of whipped cream, fresh raspberries, honey and whisky soaked oats – it’s like Scotland in a glass.

The Scottish Borders are also famed for their sugary treats. Boiled sweets in the form of Jethhart snails from Jedburgh and Soor (sour) Plums from Galashiels will certainly put a smile on your face. If cakes are more your cup of tea, try a slice of the Borders’ famous Selkirk Bannock. This fruit cake was said to be a favourite of Queen Victoria when she visited the area.

Matched beverages

Malt Whisky Trail, Fèis Ìle, Scotch Whisky Experience

 Scotch on the rocks (credit: Getty Images)

A tasting menu can only be enhanced by the right pairing, making whisky an essential element of any gastronomic tour of Scotland. Smoky, peaty and fruity single malts are produced over five regions: Speyside, Highland, Islay, Campeltown and Lowland.

Home to Glenlivet, Glenfiddich and Glen Moray, take your time travelling between the world-renowned distilleries of Speyside’s Malt Whisky Trail. Visit the island of Islay during 22 - 30 May 2015 to join in the ceilidhs (traditional Gaelic social gatherings) and whisky tastings of Fèis Ìle, the Festival of Malt and Music.

Back in the capital, you won’t have to travel too far for a nip as there are dozens of whisky bars and tasting rooms in Edinburgh city. Venture up the Royal Mile to the Scotch Whisky Experience for a journey through a replica distillery with experts guiding you every swig of the way. For the ultimate Scottish memento, sniff, swirl and sip your way through a blending class to create a dram of your very own.

Anna Howard

Give me street food over Michelin stars, cellar doors over wine bars and small towns and wide open spaces over big cities any day. Travel for me means ticking off the 'to eat and drink' list one regional flavour and wine bottle at a time.