Ahead of the Taste Local Awards on Wednesday 27th February, our guest contributor Natalie Bayfield gives this season’s self-catering guests plenty of time to consider their food shop during their stay.
When staying in self-catering accommodation in Skye & Lochalsh it’s tempting to organise a big supermarket shop before you arrive – after all, then you can get on with enjoying your holiday, can’t you?
Whilst we can’t stop you being as organised as this we would suggest you take a different view and simply buy the essentials, supplementing your cooking instead with local produce to give you a chance to not only get a literal taste of life on Skye but to immerse yourself in its culture and heritage too.
In organising the Glendale Highland Market and the Taste Local Awards I have come to discover that many tourists miss out on the opportunity to benefit from the wonderful produce available during their visit.
Many of the local producers supply the top restaurants on Skye directly – including the likes of The Three Chimneys and Edinbane Lodge. Cooking with local produce, therefore, gives you the opportunity to replicate some of the flavours and experiences you will enjoy when eating out and about too. It gives you the opportunity to cook with the same mouth-watering ingredients as Skye’s famous chefs who put local produce at the heart of their menu. It also allows you to know you are cooking with some of the freshest ingredients to hand – often grown or reared just a stone’s throw from where you may be staying.
To make your shopping trip a little easier we have outlined some of the ways you can buy local produce and spoken to some of the store owners about what you should buy.
There are a number of general stores in Skye & Lochalsh that serve their local community and stock local produce. They include The Top Shop Broadford, Rankin’s Uig and The Glendale Shop & Post Office.
Megan MacDonald of The Top Shop Broadford says encouraging tourists to buy local produce benefits all. “Buying local produce provides a really special addition to the experience of visiting our beautiful island.”
She says that every item of local produce she sells – from confectionery and preserves from Schehallion Handmade Products to dog biscuits from Skye Tails (the latter one of the store’s bestsellers in 2018) – speaks for itself.
Stuart Bell, who runs The Glendale Shop & Post Office, agrees that local produce naturally appeals to tourists. “Local produce will be snapped-up much faster than the produce next to it on the shelf, even at a marginally greater price. Visitors want the “authentic” experience of local food, which often tastes better and has better provenance, and it allows them to feel part of the community themselves,” he says.
He and his wife Nancy take the time to explain the origin of produce. “As a small grocery store, we offer a personal shopping experience that allows visitors to ask about the products they are buying. This unique selling point differentiates us from the mainstream supermarkets,” he says.
The store sells a range of seasonal stock which varies from month to month but can include anything from free-range eggs to fresh blueberries. “We work in parallel with the local farmer’s market to support our fruit and vegetable suppliers and are able to bring more visibility to the produce each week outside of the farmer’s market opening hours, and at extremes of the season,” he says.
Stuart urges tourists to try two year-round products he stocks – the local gin and whiskey from the distilleries on Skye, and tablet and fudge from the nearby Isle Of Skye Fudge Company.
However, he warns that local produce can be an addictive purchase for tourists. “Having tasted the local produce, they will often come back during their stay to buy further produce to take home with them,” he says.
Megan agrees that connecting shoppers with the produce and the stories behind them means that the food becomes something that truly symbolises a holiday. “Personalising the produce really helps to give a buyer a ‘feel good’ factor, and they then can take home something that really connects them to their visit to Skye,” she says.
The Farmers Market
For those who love a farmers’ market, Glendale Highland Market is the remotest in the UK, operating every Tuesday throughout the main summer months. Local producers sell direct to customers at the market which is only ten minutes from the Neist Point Lighthouse.
Glenys Maclean, owner of Skye Free Range and one of the stallholders, says that buying from the market helps support local crofting businesses such as hers. She supplies free-range chicken and beef from her Shetland cows. “I initially started rearing a few chickens for our own table and discovered the flavour to be something I’d never experienced before. When the Glendale Highland Market started I jumped on board to sell my chicken and soon had a loyal local following. This then led on to the expansion of selling some of the other produce that we produce on our croft. Our customers like to know where the meat they are eating comes from and have engaged with us on the story behind our animals,” she says.
The Artisan Stores
For those looking for a special touch, there are a number of artisan stores in Skye & Lochalsh too. They include Skye Bridge Sea Foods, Beth’s Deli, Isle of Skye Baking Company and Buth Bheag.
Margaret Macrae, owner of seafood bar and deli Buth Bheag, specialises in locally landed fish and shellfish. “We make salads and rolls using local salad leaves, Skye hot smoked salmon, prawns and crabs,” she says. She urges tourists to experience the quality and taste of locally made or reared produce but says they don’t need much persuasion due to both the quality and the price the company charges. “We don’t feel tourists should have to pay over the odds for quality and local produce. West coast seafood, especially the prawns, are amongst the best in the world and it’s why so much is exported. Our reason for starting the business was to provide somewhere where locals and visitors alike to have ease of access to this produce,” she says.
The Community Shop
For those who really want to get close to the Skye experience then buying from the region’s community stores such as Armadale Stores or An Crùbh is also a great option.
An Crùbh is a community-owned hub which comprises a café and store. “It’s very important for visitors to think about buying local, as it supports the local economy but also the products will be fresher and tastier with a smaller carbon footprint, than non-local products,” says Sharon Campbell, business development manager at An Crùbh. She recommends sampling local (Mary MacLennan) honey and Isle of Skye Smokehouse Salmon. “Both are of very high quality with good clear recognisable packaging. The local honey is not only produced locally and extremely tasty, but you know that the bees have been feeding and pollinating the local crops and flowers (which change from batch to batch adding to nuances in flavour) which provides a wider benefit to the local ecosystem,” she says.
Where have we missed? If you have a favourite place in Skye to shop local then leave a comment below to share with everyone.
For more information about the Taste Local Awards visit www.tastelocalawards.com or call Natalie Bayfield on 07717 396 995. This year’s awards are held on the 27th February from 12-3 at the Sligachan Hotel.
A guest blog for The Boy Eat Scotland by Natalie Bayfield.