Off to Aberdeenshire for the weekend.
You forget that Aberdeenshire is less than two hours away from the central belt. With dual carriageway most of the way it makes this stunning area an easy drive away. While Aberdeen is best known for its oil industry, Aberdeenshire is also home to some of the most exciting food and drink businesses in Scotland. Its fertile lands and abundant sea provide passionate producers with world-class ingredients to make it the perfect foodie destination.
Our first stop heading North was at Castleton Farm for morning coffee and a homemade scone and jam. The farm is located just off the A90 at Fordoun near Laurencekirk and is the perfect stop for breakfast, lunch or a coffee and a bite to eat. Castleton has a fantastic restaurant (worth stopping for the cakes alone) and an excellent farm shop selling their own produce plus delights from Aberdeenshire and further afield. Many visitors to the shop won’t realise that Castleton is one of the biggest employers in the area with over 600 staff at peak season.
Anna and her husband Ross, along with their army of workers grow strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and cherries on their farm. These berries are then packed onsite and shipped to supermarkets all around the UK. Over the last year, they grew, packed and dispatched 7,500,000 punnets of soft fruit. As well as selling their delicious berries in the farm shop, they have a jam kitchen. This is where they turn the berries into amazing Castleton Farm Preserves. Keep an eye out for their Strawberry Tart Jelly next summer!
As we toured the farm, Anna gave us a great tip about buying blueberries. Always pick the ones with the white bloom on as they are the tastiest. The farm is the most northernly blueberry producer in Europe helping to extend this super-fruits UK season. If you see the Castleton Farm or farmer Ross Mitchell’s name on packs in the supermarket, you will be sure of a delicious taste of Aberdeenshire.
Next, we visited Buchanan Bistro for lunch, and it comes highly recommended. Val and Calum’s mission is “to run a restless kitchen with an inquisitive soul believing in food that nurtures, service that cares and space that inspires”. It’s a bold statement and we were intrigued to visit.
I enjoyed their famous Fishy Selection of Smoked Salmon, Bradan roast salmon, smoked mussels, mackerel, marinated anchovies, haddock ceviche, herrings, cornichon mayo and seaweed salsa. Raymond had black bean patties with lemon vegan mayo. Both came with a large bowl of homemade sourdough bread and butter – deliciously addictive!
This was all washed down with homemade Kombucha. Calum is so passionate about fermentation and gave us a wee jar of Scoby to start our own Kombucha production! Val, Calum and the team have created a fantastic restaurant in the heart of Aberdeenshire. You feel a huge amount of love for local ingredients and a respect for mother nature in their dishes. The restaurant is a welcoming space and has a fantastic energy. They care! Their mission is accomplished – our lunch was first class, bursting with fantastic flavours. Pop in and enjoy great food and service.
Next, we were off to visit Aberdeenshire Highland Beef. Grace, the owner, is originally from Raasay and dreamed of becoming a farmer while working as an environmental health officer. The tenancy at Carin O’Mount farm came up and she jumped in with both feet. Her ethos is that the best quality beef comes from providing the highest standard of care for her animals and allowing them to roam and feed naturally on grass in the surrounding fields.
The farm has an onsite butchery so that Grace has control over quality and provenance from start to finish. Aberdeenshire Highland Beef appears on many top chef’s menus around the country. We enjoyed a taste and the tenderness and flavour of the meat are exceptional. It’s no wonder that the demand is so high.
As well as selling direct, Grace also has a stall at various Farmer’s markets around Aberdeenshire. If you are in the area, you can visit the farm on a Saturday where she operates an honesty fridge. Just choose your meat and pop the money in the box.
We enjoyed one of Grace’s farm tours that give visitors the chance to meet the animals and understand the end to end process of rearing Highland Cows. As well as beef Highlanders, we were also introduced to Una, Duchess and Donald the bull, some of Grace’s award-winning show Highland Cows. It is a fascinating way to spend a couple of hours in Aberdeenshire. Grace is such a passionate farmer, and you will get a great insight and appreciation for the meat that ends up on your plate. You will also enjoy a cup of tea, coffee, shortbread and Scottish tablet too! Full details are available at https://aberdeenshirehighlandbeef.com.
Keep an eye out for drinks from Deeside Brewery on your travels in Aberdeenshire and beyond. These innovative guys have lots of fun brewing up beer and distilling whisky, gin and rum. There’s lots of experimenting going on and nothing they aren’t turning their hand to in the world of alcohol!
The distillery nestles on the eastern shore of Loch Auchlossan, between forest and farmland on the edge of the Cairngorm National Park in Royal Deeside. They are in the process of building a new gin and absinthe school at the distillery so from 2019 you can go along and learn the art of ancient distilling and create your very own tipple. We had a delightful time sampling their spirits and hearing all about those fabulous bottle designs.
We started with their eeNoo Gin. EeNoo in old Scots means just now, at the present time, in a short time, at once. This gin is distilled with Royal Deeside honey providing flavours of heather, willow herb and clover pollen.
To complement the honey flavours, heather flowers and other local botanicals are added. They forage a percentage of brambleberries, raspberries and rosehip from the Deeside area and source the remainder from berry farms in Aberdeenshire and Angus. Coriander seeds, angelica root, liquorice root, orange and lemon peel are added to give the gin a traditional yet smooth fruity profile.
Lost Loch Spirit’s then add some of the purest water in the world from an ancient spring in the Cairngorms National Park. The gin is deliciously different with a sweet berry flavour and a smoothness that makes it ideal for sipping over ice.
As a house of brands, Lost Loch Spirits also distil their own Murmichan Scottish Absynth – the first in Scotland! Murmichan won Best New Brewed or Distilled Product this year at the North East Scotland Food and Drink Awards. Sip it like a whisky, or serve with Ginger ale or mix into a cocktail.
The distillery also has a delicious infusion called Haroosh. Haroosh originates from the North East of Scotland and has been made by their family for over 100 years. Brambleberries are foraged every autumn then left to infuse with local honey and whisky, slowly transforming into Haroosh. It was the perfect tipple for an autumn day.
You can’t visit Aberdeenshire and not have a Buttery (or is it a Rowie?)
We love butteries, but proper ones are like hen’s teeth in Edinburgh! J.G Ross Bakers Ltd have bakery shops throughout Aberdeenshire and their butteries also make it into Tescos all over Scotland. We went along to visit their bakery and shop in Inverurie where they make 100,000 butteries per week to learn how to make our own. We met Mr Ross, the Buttery King, and he and David showed us the fine art of proper butteries! The official word is that these treats are known as rowies in the city and butteries in the countryside. They have provided a high energy tasty bite for fishermen and farmers over the years.
We came away with four bags of lovely warm butteries (they freeze well) and the car smelled amazing. Make sure you stop off at one of their bakeries and purchase some on your Aberdeenshire travels. You can eat them just as they are or toast them and add butter (optional) and marmalade or jam! J.G. Ross also operates a mail order service so you can get your butteries through the post, wherever you are in the UK.
They aren’t the healthiest but they are a blooming delicious treat!
Our next stop was Inverurie and Inverurie Whisky Shop. If you love whisky and gin, then you will be like a child in a sweetie shop here. Stocking specialist old and rare whiskies and artisan gin, Scottish gin, wines by Dion Wines, rum, Scottish Rum and whiskies of the world, there’s something for everyone. The staff are so friendly and welcoming (well we did have a bag of butteries with us) and they will help you find your perfect dram. During our visit they had Tayport distillery sampling their gins to their customers. The shop also runs regular tasting events, so keep an eye on their website for details.
Inverurie Whisky Shop is also the home to Raven Gin. Brothers Callum and Peter, have taken inspiration from a love of Norse mythology and whisky distilling to create a gin that embodies both. The striking label features the two ravens Huginn and Muninn, or “thought and memory” in Old Norse, said to have accompanied Odin. They have created a drink that brings a longer, more complex whisky style flavour profile to the gin market. Mandarin gives an initial citrusy sweetness to the drink that is followed by a long hit of dry, smooth spiciness – it’s great neat or with a dash of tonic. You can choose from their “Thought & Memory” and a limited “Founders Edition”, both available online here.
Alpacas and Turkeys – what a cute combination! We had been looking forward to visiting Craig Michie at Barra Bronzes for weeks after seeing pictures online of his turkeys and their protective alpacas that chase away any foxes. Craig rears the very finest, award-winning free range bronze Turkeys at his family’s farm near Old Meldrum in Aberdeenshire. The turkeys roam and forage in their large field and enjoy a varied diet including brassicas, cereals and fruit from their very own orchard. The birds are allowed to grow and mature over a 26 week period as nature intended – three times longer than a standard supermarket turkey. All of this slow-farming results in a turkey with an incredible depth of flavour that will make for a memorable Christmas dinner.
Craig also processes the turkeys on the farm which reduces stress levels for the birds and he can maintain quality standards. The turkeys are dry plucked which keeps the skin intact then game hung in a temperature controlled environment for two weeks. This helps to further develop flavour and they are then packaged up and sent out to kitchens far and wide. The pack comes complete with cooking instructions, herbs and even a pop-up thermometer to check that it’s cooked correctly. Barra Bronzes cook quicker than usual birds because they are given time to develop a marbling of fat. This renders down during the cooking process resulting in succulent meat and juices that make a delicious gravy that needs nothing else added.
Barra Bronze turkeys sell out every year, so if you want the best for your Christmas feast, then we recommend reserving your bird now. Full details are available on Craig’s Barra Bronzes website.
You can’t visit Aberdeenshire without taking in Scotland’s most easterly distillery, Glen Garioch (rhymes with cheery). Located in the heart of historic market town Oldmeldrum, they have been distilling whisky since 1797. This makes it one of Scotlands’ oldest distilleries. It’s a beautiful setting and it feels like nothing much has changed here since it first opened all of these years ago. Glen Garioch is also a difficult place to leave as you relax into the slow rhythm of life here and enjoy some of their uncommonly fine single malts.
Glen Garioch Experiences
The visitor centre team have come up with a few options for you learn about some of the Distillery’s remarkable history. The Founders Tour lasts an hour and celebrates the Manson family, the Distillery’s founders including a dram of their finest. The Wee Tasting Tour lasts a bit longer and includes a visit to the warehouse viewing gallery and an opportunity to taste two of their single malt expressions.
For the ultimate experience, The Legends of Garioch Experience is like no other distillery tour you will come across! You are taken on a wonderful journey to explore the very heart of Glen Garioch and what makes it so special. The area is rich in history, has stunning scenery and you get to enjoy some local delicacies along the way. It’s all about discovering the whisky too and a dram is never too far away. You are also treated to a special behind the scenes peek at parts of the Distillery that other tours don’t reach. Fiona was our guide for the day and her enthusiasm shone through. We had a ball!
The tour concludes with a taste of Aberdeenshire lunch at Meldrum Country House in their 800-year-old Cave Bar. We don’t want to spoil the surprise but it’s an unforgettable lunch that celebrates the area’s rich larder and honours the history of Glen Garioch’s skilled craftsmen.
Glen Garioch also offers their “Rare Pair” experience. It’s a chance to enjoy some delicious Scottish Cheeses paired with four drams of Glen Garioch whisky along with Huntly Herb’s fantastic chutneys. This all takes place in the cosy surroundings of The Bothy which used to be the old exciseman’s cottage. The flavour combinations of the whisky, cheese and chutney are a match made in whisky heaven!
Full details of all the tours are available on the Glen Garioch Website
A visit to the North East wouldn’t be complete without Fish and Chips at The Bay in Stonehaven. With a long list of awards and amazing reviews to its name, Calum’s takeaway has also been listed as one of Lonely Planet’s world top food experiences.
We visited on our way home on Sunday lunchtime, and the fast-moving queue was already out the door. This place is popular, and it’s easy to see why. Sustainability is at the heart of everything they do. We love the fact that you can see which fishing boat caught your fish. The Amity Scampi from Jimmy Buchan’s boats (aka The Trawlerman from TV) came highly recommended so that’s what we chose.
It was a delicious end to our food & drink travels in Aberdeenshire. The simple pleasure of eating the freshest seafood from the North Sea on its shores is hard to beat.
Where we stayed
We stayed at Banchory Lodge Hotel on our first night in Aberdeenshire and Royal Deeside. As we arrived down the driveway, The Lodge appeared at the end of the golden tree-lined avenue. We could tell that this was going to be somewhere really special to stay. Situated beside the Dee, the hotel makes the most of its riverside views – stunning. The beds are extremely comfortable, and we had one of the best nights sleep in ages. You can read about our stay on at Banchory Lodge Hotel here.
For our second night, we stayed at Meldrum House, recently awarded the UK Boutique Hotel of the Year. It’s easy to see why. This 800-year-old Baronial house has had a £4.5m refurbishment doubling the number of rooms and creating a stunning event ballroom. Surrounded by 240 acres of parkland including an award-winning 18 hole golf course, Meldrum House is the perfect Aberdeenshire retreat. You can read all about our stay at Meldrum House here.
We had such an enjoyable weekend in Aberdeenshire and it really opened our eyes to its rich culture, history and food & drink heritage. It’s an exciting place to visit and there are so many passionate people to meet who want to share their stories and produce. Aberdeenshire is very accessible and offers visitors so much to see and do. There are castles galore, a rugged coastline to explore, unspoilt beaches, golf courses, stunning landscapes to walk in and rivers to fish. You also have the Cairngorms National Park and the splendour of Royal Deeside on the doorstep. All this and you get to sample some of Scotland’s finest food and drinks too.
Our trip was supported by private sector development body Opportunity North East (ONE) who deliver the North East Scotland Food & Drink Awards in partnership with Aberdeenshire Council to celebrate growth, innovation and success within one of the region’s key industry sectors. The awards form part of a wider programme of activities that support growth in the food, drink and agriculture sector that are delivered by ONE and its partners. Look out for the launch of the 2019 Awards by following the awards on Twitter: @NESAwards #NESAwards
Aberdeenshire has so much to offer and we hope you visit and enjoy it as much as we did.
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