There was more than an air of success about this ‘Tasting Ayrshire’ Tour. The majority of our guests are well-respected entrepreneurs who afforded themselves a rare bank holiday off, and quite rightly so we say.
Our day started with a visit to the Dunlop Dairy where Ann produces award winning artisan cheeses, using the milk from Ayrshire cows and goats (her own herd, which she milks herself). The tasting took us on a journey from a baby soft, creamy yet piquant goat’s cheese through to the grandmother of Ann’s brood, the nutty matured Dunlop. That’s what we love the most about vertical tastings it allows everyone to pin-point their own particular favourites.
Each tasting was accompanied by a pre-amble from Liz, Ann’s knowledgeable colleague who gave an insight as to how the cheese came about and its worthiness of a place within the range. Liz explained that each cheese is named after surrounding places or burns. I felt it imperative to point out that once as a relative newcomer to Ayrshire’s beautiful lush landscape I had got lost and landed up in the inevitable housing estate, where I noted the name of the street ‘Glazert’. Knowing this to be the name of one of Ann’s cheeses I concluded that they must have named the new housing estate streets in recognition of the area’s best cheese producer!
Once the critical pasteurisation process of the milk was well attended to Ann allowed us a few moments in the dairy where she provided a fascinating insight into cheese making and her hopes that a PFN (Protected Food Name) status will soon be granted from the EU for Dunlop Cheese, thus safeguarding it against imitation. Ann explained that in the same way as Arbroath Smokies on Scotland’s north east coast, have their own PFN, it is important that the origin and history of Dunlop Cheese (in that it must be produced from the milk of Ayrshire cow’s) be remembered and recognised in the same way.
Our next stop was a mere mile or two up the road where we were warmly welcomed by Arlene & Thomson into their butchery at the Nethergate Larder. Specialising in rare and native breeds of pig, sheep and cattle they provided an interesting introduction into what prompted them into buying a 50 acre park and re-establishing it into small manageable paddocks. With a keen philosophy for allowing their animals to wander as freely as possible to ensure top quality meat, there was even a hint that some have even tried to wander into the butchery itself, their passion for their produce was clear for all to hear. All the curing is done on site and when asked how long they hang their meat for the answer was a straight forward one ‘as long as the beast tells us to’.
The taste test came in the form of pork sausages and we urge you to try their own. This will be a staple of our Ayrshire tour so why not join us on our next one. Succulent yet meaty (with 80%+ meat content) they were streets ahead of a mass produced imposter for flavour, texture, colour and aftertaste. No wonder really when you consider the vast majority of mass produced sausages have a mere 50% or less meat content – the rest, a pasty mixture of water and rusk. Taste the difference? Indeed we did.
Before heading to South Ayrshire for our 3 AA Rosette lunch we met Mrs Pig and Humphrey, two of the resident pigs. The long and lean Tamworth with its ginger coat to protect it from the sun, is a pig well renowned for its bacon. The Gloucestershire Old Spot, the great forager, that produces fantastic pork and bacon, are particularly keen on apples hence are known as the ‘Orchard Pig’. Some say the spots are simply the bruises from where the apples have fallen!
After a quick lunch & glass of wine at Lochgreen, Troon’s beautifully restored mansion house hotel where chef Andrew Costley has achieved 3 AA Rosette’s for Scottish cuisine that reflects the abundance of local seafood, meat, game and cheese we headed back to North Ayrshire.
The Lime Tree Larder owners Jean and Alex Wilson have converted a redundant stable on their farm into a workshop for their delicious range of hand-made chocolates and ice-cream.
On arrival there was no hanging around as we donned our hats and aprons and set about producing our own chocolate masterpieces to take home. Jean provided a brief introduction to the origins of chocolate, what makes chocolate from different parts of the World so distinctively individual and the process stages to convert cocoa beans into something we can work with, provided some underpinning knowledge to support our next taste test, the single origin chocolate tasting. Across the board from white, through milk and on to dark we sampled chocolate from Ghana, the Dominican Republic and Santa Domingo to name but a few.
And as if that wasn’t enough chocolate we sat down to pots of freshly brewed tea and coffee and enough chocolate afternoon tea treats to practically sink the bus on the way home. Chocolate Profiteroles; big, juicy, ripe red strawberries with chocolate dip; a range of beautiful hand-made chocolates with various fillings; chocolate feuillantine, a milk chocolate square with fine French wafer and so on and on. Ice-cream was served as a cooling palate cleanser and to literally finish us off!
I have said this before and I will say it again if you are not salivating you are NOT alive.
Join us on our next journey to Ayrshire and get a taste of the region for yourself.