Friday, 29 February 2008

Cheese tasting

Whilst shopping the other day I noticed that Sainsbury's had a larger then usual selection of Cheddar, from different parts of Scotland. So, I thought it might be interesting to buy a selection and have a 'cheese tasting' session in the office at work.

I bought three different cheeses to start with: Rowan Glen mature cheddar (A), Isle of Bute mature coloured cheddar (B) and Orkney mature Scottish island cheddar (C). Here's a picture of the three cheeses:
After some discussion, we found the Isle of Bute cheddar to be very mild, while the Rowan Glen had a nice, creamy texture. The Orkney cheddar had quite a different texture, more waxy then the other two. In terms of taste, the Isle of Bute and the Rowan Glen were both quite similar. The Orkney cheddar had quite a distinctive flavour. Overall, the votes were as follows:

Rowan Glen: 3
Isle of Bute: 1
Orkney: 2

So, the Rowan Glen was the winner by a small margin.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Pig farming

It was with some dismay that I read an article in the Friday edition of the Scotsman which outlined the possible future (or lack of) for pig farming in Scotland. According to the article, there were 70,000 breeding sows in Scotland in the mid-1990s and this has now been reduced to only 45,000. It seems that the problem is the rising cost of animal feed, while the cost of the bacon on the supermarket shelves hasn't changed. The article puts this into context with the example of a 12 acre farm which has to buy about 100 tonnes of barley a month to feed just over 300 pigs. This time last year, the cost was around £80 per tonne, but that has now risen to £174 per tonne.

I have commented previously that the predicted rises in food costs due to the increased cost of feeding the animals don't seem to have happened. I am now wondering how much of this is simply because as the costs incurred by the farmers increase, the supermarkets simply squeeze them harder by refusing to pay the extra. According to the article, it has been suggested that if there isn't enough pork produced in the UK, the supermarkets will simply look elsewhere in Europe.

In one sense, maybe this is fair enough. Farming is, after all, a business and as such should be subject to the same elements of competition as other sectors. However, from the reading I've been doing it might not be that simple. I don't in any sense claim to be an expert here! I'm learning about this just as much as anyone else, but it seems that one of the reasons pork can be produced so much more cheaply elsewhere is that the required welfare standards for the animals are much lower. This would, naturally, make the process of farming them cheaper.

So, it comes down to the question of how much the consumer cares about animal welfare. An identical argument has recently been raised and publicised relating to free range chickens - which is more important, that the chicken be allowed to grow and develop in a natural environment, or that the consumer be able to buy as much cheap chicken as they want? I appreciate that it isn't always going to be that simple and I will try to find the time to explore the issue a bit further.

A quick fact about barley - According to, Britain produces around 6.5 million tonnes of Barley per year, 1.5 million of which are exported, 2 million are used in the brewing industry and the remaining 3 million tonnes are used for animal feed.

Saturday, 9 February 2008

Poached fish

I hadn't realised it had been so long since I last posted! Things have been really hectic at work and I've had some trouble with my heating at home, but I havn't forgotten about my Eating British project! I have eaten out a few more times, since it's cold in my flat! But, I've done my best to stick with the British food where I can.

I've recently tried a new recipe for the trout, which I've pr
eviously always seasoned with salt, pepper and dill and then fried. This time, I tried poaching it in milk and butter and the results were excellent! What's more, it didn't take any extra time, so this is still a dish that's at least as quick as most ready meals. To poach the trout, first melt some butter in some milk in a frying pan and while that's happening, rinse the trout fillets (farmed in Scotland, apparently) and pat them dry with some kitchen paper. Lightly season the fish and once the butter has melted completely, place it in the pan:
As it's cooking the fish will turn a different shade of pink. Once it looks like it's cooked about half way, gently turn the fish over and let it cook on the other side. When it's done, the fish will be falling off the skin as you handle it, so be careful if presentation is important! Remove the fish from the pan and then add dill and any other herbs you like to the remaining liquid to make a sauce.
I like to keep this kind of dish simple, so I simply served it with boiled potatoes and peas. That's it!

As far as I can tell, unless you grow your own herbs it's impossible to get hold of British grown ones. At least at my local supermarket none of the herbs they sell have been produced in Britain. Maybe someone knows of a more local source of herbs? I'm not sure I've even seen them at the Farmer's Market, but I will have a look next time I'm there.