A Local Larder

by Alex Garrick-Wright -

In our previous blog post, we answered some of the most frequently asked questions about life in Shetland during the winter, including what happens on the rare occasions that a winter storm disrupts deliveries of supplies the supermarkets. Alex Garrick Wright explores some of the local bounty on offer, meaning that no matter what the weather, you're always guaranteed a fully stocked storecupboard.

The Essentials

In times past, Shetlanders would have subsisted almost entirely on local produce. The Shetland Farm Dairies produces plenty of milk, butter, cream and buttermilk for the isles, which can be found in Tesco and Co-op as well as all local shops. Available all-year round, local milk is hardly any different in price to shipped-in brands, and a lot fresher.

Shetland has a number of bakeries, including Sandwick Baking Company in South Mainland, Waas Bakery on the Westside, Da Kitchen Bakery on Yell, and Skibhoull on Unst. Between them, dozens of lines of breads, rolls, cakes and biscuits are available from supermarkets, local shops and the bakeries themselves right through winter, come rain or shine.

Fresh, local meat is easily found- and unbelievably tasty. With a proud tradition of crofting, Shetland has been producing beef and lamb for centuries. The Scalloway Meat Company and Andersons Butchers (based in Scalloway and Whiteness respectively, but both with branches in Lerwick) pride themselves on selling quality, locally-reared beef and lamb, from farms such as Uradale Farm, Gremista farm, and GB & AM Anderson of Weisdale. Shetland meat has a much smaller carbon footprint and, with the animals being reared in the stunning countryside of the isles, as fresh as it gets.

Many crofters also sell their produce; Gateside Croft in Hillswick produces incredible pork (available from Scoop in Lerwick) and MacKenzie’s Croft in Cunningsburgh has a delicious range of their beef, lamb, mutton and pork on sale in their own farm shop, alongside fresh local vegetables, eggs and baked goods. It’s also common to see individual crofters advertising the sale of beef, pork, lamb and mutton online; it pays to keep an eye out in order to get a freezer-full for a good price!

The increased use of polycrubs- a hardier version of a polytunnel designed to withstand Shetland’s harsh weather- means there’s never been a greater availability of isles-grown fruit and vegetables. Veg is seasonal, but a hearty stew of Shetland leeks, tatties, carrots and onions is something that can’t be beat on a cold winter’s night.

Fish has always made up a significant part of the Shetlander’s diet, and rightly so. The bounty of the cold North Sea is healthy, delicious and easy-available from local fishmongers such as Blydoit in Scalloway and Handmade Fish in Lerwick, both of which sell a variety of local catch straight off the boat. Farmed salmon and rope-grown mussels are also available, coming from the ice-cold, crystal-clear waters straight to your plate.

Thule Ventus, based in Cunningsburgh, makes traditional salt cod; caught by Shetland boats from sustainable sources. A real taste of Shetland’s history, the salt cod is aged for up to 8 weeks, air-dried and made ready for your pantry, where is can last up to 9 months before forming the basis of a true island meal.

The Luxuries

For those with a sweet tooth, Shetland has you covered. The Shetland Fudge Company produces a wild variety of sweets and treat in their shop in Lerwick- including the famous Puffin Poo confectionary. Mirrie Dancers Chocolatier, named for the Shetland term for the Aurora Borealis, also produces a fine selection or artisan truffles, chocs, pralines and more. Both companies go out of their way to use Shetland produce wherever possible in their additive-free recipes.

Cakes and biscuits are always a popular choice in winter, and all the isles bakeries produce a staggering amount of different kinds. In addition, there are dedicated confectioners such as Katja’s Cakes for an incredible range of goodies.

Some might dispute categorising the drams as ‘luxuries’ and not ‘essentials’ but here we are. If you’re worried about the shops running out of festive cheer during a particularly stormy spell, fear not. The Lerwick Brewery produces 12 lines of popular craft beers, including the famous 60° North, Azure IPA and Skippers’ Ticket. Viking Mead, the recent acquirers of the Valhalla Brewery in Unst, make the genuinely remarkable Skald- a 5% mead that’s unlike anything you’ve ever tasted- as well as Valhalla’s range of island ales.

For something a bit stronger, there’s the Shetland Distillery, makers of the award-winning Shetland Reel Gin. Based a stone’s throw from the Viking Mead brewery at Saxa Vord, Unst, the distillery churns out incredible gins made from local botanicals as well as blended whisky- so there’s no chance of the party running dry this winter.

If you need to stock up on preserves, Shetlandeli makes marmalades, chutneys, relishes and jams of all sorts (again, from local produce as much as possible), all hand-made in small batches in their Lerwick premises.

A Local Larder

It’s part-and-parcel of island life that during winter, the choice at the supermarket can sometimes be less than optimal. But with even a little bit of effort, it doesn’t matter; with all the local meat, veg, bread, milk, eggs, chutney, seafood, cakes, chocolates, milk, butter, beer, mead and gin, you can feast like a jarl.

Posted in: Local Food

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