Shetland’s larder is brimming with fresh produce and, as an island archipelago, is particularly well known for its fresh fish and seafood. If you’re planning a visit to Shetland then be sure to try some of our famous local produce; you won’t be disappointed.

Which types of food are produced locally in Shetland?

There’s an abundance of it, with really fresh fish and shellfish, excellent lamb and beef, seasonal vegetables, herbs and a little fruit. The islands’ farms also produce milk and there is locally-made butter and cheese. Local eggs can also be found in the shops, or you may find them on sale by the roadside, leaving the payment in an ‘honesty box’.

What's special about Shetland fish and seafood?

The waters around the islands are some of the most productive in the world, as the many seals, porpoises, dolphins and whales that forage around our shores know very well. A huge range of fish is landed, from familiar species such as haddock, mackerel, halibut or plaice to less common ones like ling, lythe, megrim or John Dory. Fish and shellfish are also farmed around the islands. The strong tidal streams are particularly good for growing salmon, some of which is now reared to organic standards. The production of mussels has also become very important over the last decade. The mussels grow naturally on ropes suspended in the sea, with no human interference and no use of anything artificial.

What about farm produce?

Shetland is known – but not as widely as it should be – for outstanding lamb. The native lamb is smaller than average but has a wonderful, distinctive flavour. Much of the greater part of Shetland’s land area is grass and heather moorland, swept from time to time by salt-laden gales. Virtually all of it is given over to the grazing of sheep. However, some flocks have access to the shore and seaweed forms part of their diet, adding another note to their flavour. Shetland lamb enjoys the protection of the European Union’s Protected Designation of Origin, in exactly the same way as Parma ham or Burgundy wines. It often features on local menus and can be obtained in a few high-class butchers elsewhere in Britain.

The richer pastures nourish cattle and there is a Shetland breed of cow. Milk, cream, butter and cheese are all produced in the islands. The cheese is a recent venture but it makes a very welcome addition to the local larder. Local beef is also available and is of very high quality. If you’re self-catering, both it and local lamb are available from local butchers’ shops. They’ll also be happy to wrap some so that you can take it back home.

Can you grow fruit and veg?

The best-known product from the Shetland field or garden is probably the Shetland Black potato, a delicious variety that has, as the name suggests, a black skin. It’s also distinguished by purple markings in the flesh. It cooks very well, baking beautifully and making wonderfully crisp and floury roast potatoes.

Carrots, cabbage, kale, leeks, beetroot and turnips are also widely grown. Given Shetland’s cool climate, there are obviously some limits on what is possible, but small quantities of such crops as strawberries, tomatoes and peppers are grown under glass.

Are there any drink producers?

Shetland produces beer and gin. There is a small, family-run brewery in Lerwick that produces ales, lagers and stouts that have won the admiration of enthusiasts well beyond Shetland’s shores. Shetland Reel gin comes from a distillery at Saxa Vord on Unst; soon, it will also produce Scotland’s most northerly whisky.

What local dishes should I sample in Shetland?

While delicacies like lobster, crab, mussels and scallops are usually only found on the most exclusive restaurant menus, in Shetland they’re a common sight, thanks to our beautiful island location. For a taste of traditional seafood, head to Fjara or The Dowry in Lerwick, Da Haaf in Scalloway, or Frankie’s Fish & Chips in Brae,which offers a more casual setting but do a mean bowl of Shetland mussels!

Another of Shetland’s most famous culinary delights is reestit mutton. ‘Reestit’ means salted and the mutton is made by soaking the lamb in brine and then hanging it to dry. Once cured, it’s commonly used in tattie soup, which you’ll find on menus across Shetland, usually served with a freshly baked bannock (as shown in the main image above). The Peerie Shop Café in Lerwick regularly has reestit mutton soup as a lunchtime special, alongside Cullen skink (smoked haddock and potato soup), another local favourite.

Sassermaet is another common foodstuff you’ll find in Shetland, particularly in cafes. It’s a type of spiced sausage meat and you generally find it served as part of a cooked breakfast or in a bread roll with cooked onions.

Most places in Shetland try to cater for gluten and dairy free diets, as well as providing plenty of vegan and vegetarian options. For a snapshot of what’s on offer, check out our blog on Special diets in Shetland.

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