During our Orcadian holiday, we not only explored the mainland, but ventured off to Westray, one of the most northerly Orkney Isles, for a whole day of foodie and scenery exploration!
We set off on our ferry before dawn, so we were treated to some beautiful sunrise skies as we got closer to Rapness on the south end of Westray. Our destination for visiting foodie friends was Pierowall, but we had a bit of time to spare before heading north, so we found a walk for the dog to stretch his legs.
We also passed through Pierowall and took a drive up to the north end of the island for some lovely cliff views. It was very windy indeed so we just took a quick look at our view before heading back down the road to Wilsons of Westray dairy farm.
It was here that we briefly met with Jason, who along with his wife Nina run the dairy farm here opposite Noltland Castle and make their ‘Westray Wife’ cheese. Incidentally, Jason and Nina are they keyholders to the 16th century castle!
Jason explained that he has worked in the food and drink industry in a wide range of capacities; from packaging goods for supermarkets to WWOOFing (which is where volunteers go to gain experience with a local farmer, work on the farm and get insight into the farming life). It was this experience which kindled his passion for developing a local and ‘pure’ food.
Jason and Nina take a very holistic view of all the stages required to make their cheese and yoghurt. Some of the ways in which they do this are;
- planting 40 different types of grasses, from cloves to parsley – in order to give a deliberately varied and natural diet to their herd of Ayrshire cows
- weaning the calves in such a way that changes the position of their aesophagal muscle and uses one of the other stomachs which is better for their development
- using a natural spring water supply for them and the cows which has a health benefit for everyone on the farm
- when making the cheese, the milk is pastuerised for a long time at a low temperature (63 deg) so a higher proportion of nutrients are retained in the milk (The common practice for mass-made cheese is to pasteurise milk over a short period of time at a very high temperature)
- When forming the cheese, salt is only used when the cheeses are soaked in brine
- Once formed and stored, the cheeses (below) are handwashed daily for a couple of months.
- Jason and Nina try a sample from every single round of cheese (this would be Mr B’s dream job!) to ensure the product is as they would want it to be received when sold.
Their signature ‘Westray wife’ cheese is a nod to the neolithic statue of the same name, and is a washed hard-rind cheese.
Their new ‘Cannonball’ cheese is a creamy fresh sphere – in tribute to the neighbouring Noltland Castle. We were delighted to recieve both as well as some of their delicious thick creamy yoghurt which I worked my way through on my cereal over a couple of weeks! The Westray wife was delicious on some crackers and our own cannonball is going to be shared round at Christmas!
After receiving all those goodies, we took a walk down to the nearby beach which was absolutely gorgeous, especially since the weather had picked up a little. The seals were definitely watching us from the shoreline waves! Our dog Bartie was happy padding about the sandy shore.
Before we hopped back on the ferry, we went over to visit WFM Brown – Bakers on Westray. We met with Louise who is the marketing director. She admitted that she “couldn’t have imagined” doing such a job considering her previous life as an education lecturer in the Borders but from talking to her, it’s clear that she is relishing taking leading her husband’s family business (which is nearly 125 years old, her husband is the 4th generation baker) in their new baking and premises developments.
It was fascinating walking round the building, which has been extended many times. seeing the different areas of production and storage. Louise explained that even though they very much rely on traditional equipment and processes, demand of their products means that that they are outgrowing this existing building, and plans are now starting to come together to construct a new bakehouse in the next year.
The business have had a very successful 2016, receiving an award for “Continued Excellence from the Orkney Food and Drink Awards, and a regional bronze awards for their morning roll at the 2016 Scottish Baker of the Year award.
The breads and biscuits that WFM Brown produce are sold throughout the Orkney Isles and to a lesser extent on the Scottish mainland. In order to get the goods down to Kirkwall for distribution, the daily baking starts during the latter part of the evening and continues throughout the night in order to deliver fresh bread that heads down on the ferry. The ferry has never been missed, althoughh there have been a few close calls, and it’s not unheard of for anyone flying to Kirkwall to take a supply of freshly baked goods onto the plane as hand luggage! More seriously, the northerly remote location does make it tricky especially if there’s any breakdown of machinery, repair callouts are time intensive and expensive to boot.
Louise gave us some toffee shortbread to try as well as new crackers which are under development to try with our supply of Westray Wife and other Orkney cheeses. it was interesting to give our feedback on the varieties we tried (though I don’t think we were that helpful as we both preferred different varieties!).
We also bought a fair few packets of biscuits from William Shearer which will be distributed to friends and family over the Christmas period!
So, there you have the first part of our Westray adventures! Tomorrow I will be sharing about the time I spent with Pierowall Fish and Westray Chutney in Pierowall.
Many thanks to Jason, and Louise for taking the time to meet with me!