Pop-Up Tempts Us With Best Of Shetland Food And Drink
by Alastair Hamilton -
Although Shetland produces a wide range of food and drinks, the islands’ products haven’t been as well known as they deserve to be. But that’s changing, and a new pop-up shop on Lerwick’s main street is sure to make an impact on local people and visitors.
The shop has been opened by Shetland Food and Drink, whose 50 or so members represent every strand of local food production. The organisation’s Chair, Marian Armitage, explained that the level of interest in their Taste of Shetland project was such that “we wanted to find a way to engage with more people this summer” and a pop-up “seemed the obvious thing to do”.
When I called at the shop on its first day of trading, it was clearly attracting lots of interest. Adapted from an existing shop in just three weeks, it’s very nicely furnished and decorated, and the variety on offer is impressive.
Jill Franklin, manager of Shetland Food and Drink, told me that they wanted to display everything under one roof. “We’ve got jams and marmalades from Mackenzie’s, we’ve got Shetland Deli chutneys, we’ve got mussels from SSMG, we’ve got vegan dips from V-Bird, smoked salmon, eggs, vegetables, and more”. Lots more, in fact: there’s Shetland milk, butter and cream; lamb, beef and ham; vegetables and salads; chocolates and a wide range of bread and cakes.
There are traditional bannocks, too, and no Shetland food shop would be complete without reestit mutton, a Shetland delicacy that involves brining and then air-drying the meat. It goes nicely with a buttered bannock and is particularly popular on special occasions such as New Year, when it’s also used to flavour a classic soup.
Faced with the attractive displays, there’s no doubt that locals and visitors will buy things simply as presents or souvenirs, but that, as Jill emphasises, is only part of the shop’s purpose. ‘I think the important thing about it is that, whilst it’s great to come and buy oatcakes and biscuits and gifts, we want folk to think ‘what am I going to have for my dinner?’ and come to the pop-up to buy something, because it’s important that folk do that.”
Jill is keen to see the public’s response to what is essentially a pilot project, but there’s no doubt that it’ll raise the profile of local produce and guide people towards local producers. Visiting the shop promises to be a rewarding experience, because the range on offer will change and there will be regular tastings. A loyalty card will also encourage folk to return. As Jill says, “there will be plenty of reasons for Shetland folk and visitors alike to come to visit us.”
The pop-up was made possible by sponsorship from the Shetland Fish Producers’ Organisation, the Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation and Seafood Shetland, who’ve been involved since the project’s inception. Jill that “without the involvement of our sponsors, this project just wouldn’t have been possible and we are extremely grateful for their support.”
These days, produce identified as coming from Shetland is certainly easier to find outside the islands. Shetland beer, from breweries in Unst and, more recently, Lerwick, has been around for a while, and several varieties of Shetland Reel gin, distilled and bottled in Unst, are also becoming available elsewhere. Meanwhile, our Great British Bake-Off finalist, James Morton, has added a book on home brewing to his earlier Brilliant Bread and How Baking Works.
Other local producers are also interested in opening up markets, for example for the delicious Shetland lamb. Some producers have already done this; for example, Ronnie Eunson has been selling his organic lamb through Lidgate’s, the high-class butcher in Holland Park, London, for many years.
Shetland mussels have become really popular, and deservedly so, because they grow entirely naturally on ropes suspended in our crystal-clear seas.
Shetland Food and Drink is very much committed to helping local producers connect with their markets and overcome any barriers that they face. Jill explains: “We’ve had some sessions on distribution and logistics and found some providers that can help them. There’s a collective desire now to fix it.”
The shop will be open daily, except Sunday, until the end of September. Information and updates about the schedule of tastings and produce available will be posted on www.tasteofshetland.com and on Taste of Shetland’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds.
Judging from the enthusiasm shown by the customers who visited on the first day, the venture looks likely to be very popular. I, for one, will be back soon, this time with a bigger shopping bag!
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