A taste of Arran
As well as being the most southerly of Scotland’s populated islands, Arran is one of the largest, having a total area of 167 square miles and being home to just under 5000 people.
Although best known as a tourist destination, Arran is also home to several producers of fine foods, from ice cream to oatcakes, marketed under the ‘Taste of Arran’ banner. And whilst produce from Arran is quite widely available in the west of Scotland, there is no better place to sample it than on the island itself. To that end, the Arran Festival of Food and Drink was initiated in 2022 and has become an annual multi-day affair.
We were kindly invited to visit this year’s event, during which we visited several of the businesses taking part in the festival. Our first stop was Home Farm near Brodick, home to several businesses including Arran Dairies, producers of Arran Ice Cream.
Owned by the same family throughout its 90-year history, Arran Dairies has been producing ice cream since 1999. Using milk produced by the island’s sole remaining herd of dairy cattle, Arran Ice Cream is handmade by a small team at the company’s new solar-powered premises. Only natural flavourings and colourings are used in the production of Arran Ice Cream. Available in individual (120ml), family (750ml) and scooping sizes (4.5 litre) and in a number of flavours, the range includes both vegan ice cream and sorbets.
The company also sells about 600 litres of milk each week through a number of vending machines situated at various points on the island. In addition, and as we shall see, Arran Dairies also supply milk to the Island Cheese Company for use in the production of its soft cheeses.
In operation since 1991, the Island Cheese Company has its base a matter of yards from the premises of Arran Dairies. There, it makes both flavoured Scottish cheddar cheese and a range of soft cheeses. The cheddar is not itself produced on Arran but in Lockerbie. It is used by the Island Cheese Company because, being slow matured, it offers a creamier cheese with a smoother texture. To this base is added the ingredients which give it its distinctive flavour, such as Arran whisky, chives, Arran Mustard, caramelised onion, and herbs. It is then sealed by hand in wax to best preserve its flavour and quality.
The soft cheeses offered by the Island Cheese Company, in the guise of the Bellevue Cheese Company, are, however, wholly produced in-house using milk supplied by Arran Dairies. Three varieties are offered: Arran Blue, which was awarded ‘Best Scottish Cheese’ for two successive years at the World Cheese Awards, Arran Camembert, and Arran Brie.
As well as being sold wholesale to retail establishments, the company’s cheeses can be bought from its onsite cheese shop, the aptly named Arran Cheese Shop, along with other products sold under the Taste of Arran brand. A viewing area in the shop allows customers to view a portion of the cheese production area.
Cheese is, of course, best enjoyed with an oatcake, so it’s no great surprise to find that these too are made on Arran, Brodick-based Wooley’s of Arran producing traditional Scottish oatcakes to a secret family recipe. Rich in dietary fibre and containing slow-release carbohydrates, Wooley’s oatcakes are not only delicious but help to maintain energy levels. And for those with a sweet tooth (or several), Wooley’s also produce high-quality biscuit rounds in a range of flavours as well as an extensive range of bakery products, all of which are available from its shop in Brodick.
And whilst we’re talking about flavours, Arran Fine Foods have been producing Arran Mustard from their Lamlash premises since the early 1970s. Over the years, the company has expanded its product lines to include chutneys, relishes, preserves, marmalades, and salad creams, all made to the same exacting standards as their mustard. And like both the Island Cheese Company and Wooley’s, Arran Fine Foods have an onsite shop packed with their products.
Moving away from food and returning to Home Farm, Arran Sense of Scotland’s main premises lie in very close proximity to both the Island Cheese Company and Arran Dairies. Formed in 1989 as Arran Aromatics, the company offers a substantial range of cruelty-free fragrances and toiletries, all of which are produced on the island. And, as with the neigbouring cheese shop, visitors to Arran Sense of Scotland’s attractive retail premises can witness the company’s products being prepared for sale.
Moving on from Home Farm, we travelled to the Auchrannie Resort. From its inception in 1988, the resort has grown in both size and popularity but very much remains an independent enterprise rooted in the community. Employee-owned since 2017, Auchrannie offers a choice of different types of accommodation, from hotel rooms to luxury lodges, and even has its own dedicated motorhome stopover site. One hundred and eighty people are employed at the resort, including three full-time gardeners.
The resort is home to an enviable range of facilities, including three restaurants, two indoor swimming pools, a luxurious spa, and a large indoor sports events/space. As Arran has no municipal swimming pool, one of Auchrannie’s two pools is open to members of the public.
When we visited, the lunch menu included a dish specially created for the food festival – a common theme throughout the island, with many of the island’s eateries and venues featuring special menu offerings and running food and drink-related events throughout the festival.
Arran isn’t the sort of place that you can ‘do’ in a day, and we simply didn’t have enough time to visit all of the island’s food producers let alone the establishments participating in the festival. Still, there’s always next time…
Details of the 2024 festival will be posted on the Arran’s Food Journey website, which gives details of a number of local food and drink producers as well as eateries and accommodation for those visiting the island.
Meantime, with Christmas coming, what better time than now to do some online shopping for gifts from Arran and/or book a relaxing break away from the hustle and bustle of the mainland.