Whenever we arrive in a new city, town or village, and depending on the time of day, we like to settle in to our new accommodations then head out for a little culinary reconnaissance. This typically involves searching for nearby restaurants as well as places to shop for in-home meals whenever we have a kitchen.
Our “recon” as we jokingly refer to it will sometimes begin with an internet search however, our preferred method is to hit the streets. High on our list is a good fishmonger, some fresh produce, a cheese shop and of course, a good bottle of wine or two!
Such was the case when we arrived in Inverness, Scotland in mid-November. While Inverness is not the political capital of Scotland it is considered the capital of the Highlands. Inverness is also known by its nickname Inversnecky or The Sneck and its inhabitants are traditionally referred to as “Children of the Stone” owing to the importance of the ancient Clach Na Cudainn stone in the city’s history.
During our research, we were surprised to learn that there were no credible cheese stores in all of Inverness! How could that be? In one of the fastest-growing cities in Scotland, with a cosmopolitan demographic, very high quality of life and a vibrant food scene we were left to wonder…why hasn’t someone stepped up to fill this culinary void? Was there not one “cheese-preneur” in all of Inverness. Sadly the answer was no.
With our street level efforts coming up short we turned to everyone’s trusted friend…Google!
Our search was quickly rewarded when we found the Cromarty Cheese House, located a 45 minute bus ride (hey…when you gotta have it you’ll do anything) from the city center to an area called Black Isle. Black Isle is a peninsula that includes several small towns, villages and settlements, one of which is Cromarty. So, off we go on bus number 26A to Cromarty in search of cheese. Who does this kind of thing?
The drive to Black Isle was through typical Scottish Highlands countryside dotted with sheep and cattle farms with glimpses of the North Sea in the distance. It begs you to wonder how a small cheese store could wind up in such a remote location. We would soon find out the how and why.
Cromarty is a small town and as such, it didn’t take us long to locate the Cromarty Cheese House and its friendly owner, Emmy. Should a traveler have difficulty finding Emmy’s lovely shop all they need to do is ask a local where the old police station is, for that is where Emmy and her husband Jon live and run their shop. Yes, they bought the town’s old police station and after months of painstaking restoration, they had a permanent home and the town’s only cheese store. Take that Children of the Stone!
Being that Emmy is from Holland (Jon is English) there is a very good selection of Dutch cheeses along with many from Scotland. There are also shelves full of pastas, oatcakes, crackers and all manner of continental food treats. The shop is small but the selection is enough to satisfy any cheese lover searching for regional, or Dutch cheeses. Like any good cheesemonger Emmy is more than happy to shave a sample of this or a nibble of that so don’t be shy.
Now to the how and why…
We completed our late afternoon excursion to the Cromarty Cheese House by choosing an excellent 18 month Gouda from a region in North-Holland that was originally the sea, which accounts for the saltiness still prevalent in the soil adding to the flavor of the milk. It is easily considered to be best Gouda in the Netherlands and it also happened to be one of Emmy’s favorite cheeses. You can’t go wrong with the cheesemongers favorite!
Our second choice was a hybrid brie/camembert goat cheese from Dunlop Dairy, a traditional cheesemaker from Ayrshire, Scotland, south of Glasgow. To complete our selection we chose a peppery salami along with some Scottish water crackers. Now we could have a proper cheese and charcuterie plate before dinner!