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‘Cheese and Whisky Gang Thegither!’

If you found yourself stood beside a mashtun in a Scotch whisky distillery this summer – and I really hope you did – your be-tartaned guide may have mentioned the final resting place for the fragrant porridge caked at the bottom. With the sugary wort having been piped away to the next stage of the whisky-making process, the remaining ‘draff’ will ultimately nourish Old MacDonald’s coos. NB – if they even hint that bovine intoxication results they are lying: there is no alcohol created during mashing.

A distillery with draff to offload - in this case, Tobermory.

 

I rather like the ancient-seeming and mutually-beneficial relationships at the heart of whisky production, itself an agricultural off-shoot once upon a time. The farmer of yesteryear would grow the barley, malt it, and distil it, diverting any waste products towards the fortification of his livestock. Distillers and farmers may no long amount to the same person, but draff still supplies much-needed nutrition for cattle and sheep raised on farmland neighbouring whisky distilleries.

Mull of Kintyre Extra Mature Cheddar.

A charming press release appeared the other day attesting to the enduring beef/whisky bond: Tobermory have honoured Mull of Kintyre Mature Cheddar, recognised at this year’s British Cheese Awards as the Best Scottish Cheese ahead of 79 other contenders. Produced in the First Milk Campeltown Creamery, it is one leading example of the uniquely sharp and fruity cheese first produced at the Sgriob Ruadh Farm on the island of Mull in the Scottish Hebrides by Jeff Reade. This year’s award was dedicated to Mr Reade, whose legacy is sure to be a heartening one: whereas Scotland could only claim 24 artisan cheese varieties in 1994, today there are 80.

Jeff Reade.

The whisky and cheddar connection is a more tangible one than mere sponsorship alone, however. Tobermory draff historically provided sterling winter feed for Jeff Reade’s cattle and today the Reade family craft a cheese incorporating the peaty portion of Tobermory make, Ledaig. Congratulations to all at the First Milk Campbeltown Creamery, and here’s to the craft producers on Mull generally lovingly nurturing some mightily tasty wares.

Isle of Mull Cheddar’s sharp, yeasty characteristics are said to hail from the unique pungency of draff which impregnates the milk when eaten. However, I’d also like to make mention of whisky and cheese’s delectable compatability even when the dairy cows have been no nearer draff than the moon. In partnership with Svetlana Kukharchuk at St Andrews’ Guid Cheese Shop, we have on two previous occasions allied some of Europe’s most distinctive cheeses with a selection of Scotland’s boldest spirits. Vintage gouda makes a splendid marriage with Bunnahabhain 12yo, and the double cream Chaource combines magically with Auchentoshan 12yo. Indeed, Auchentoshan’s sister distillery, Glen Garioch, actively encourages this pairing with cheeses as a signature serve.

At their most spectaular, taking cheese and whisky together can unleash tertiary flavours neither possessed on their own: the creamy textures can aid in taming the whisky’s alcohol, allowing nutty flavours with overtones of butterscotch or spice to enthral the palate. The golden ticket as far as I am concerned, however, combines blue cheese with peated whiskies. At a more recent tasting, Svetlana’s Gorgonzola Piccante shared a bed with Benromach’s Peat Smoke. The dry smoky malt smoothed out the blue mould piquancy while the soft richness of the cheese’s body lengthened the fruity flavours sublty embedded in the whisky. A triumph!

Take the plunge with some cheese and whisky pairings for yourself. I could use some company on my Gout ward.

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Tobermory

The view of the distillery from the benches on the main street.

The view of the distillery from the benches on the main street.

Tobermory, Isle of Mull, Argyllshire, PA75 6NR, 01688 302647. Burn Stewart Distillers. www.tobermorymalt.com

APPEARANCE AND LOCATION:      *****      The distillery is just on your right as you hurtle (if you’re on a bike) over the potholes into Tobermory village. The main street is world famous and it is quite charming. The water in the harbour is clear and the views to the mainland comfortingly close by but still a safe distance. There is a chocolate shop a few yards from the distillery which YOU HAVE TO GO TO.

TOURS PROVIDED:

‘Standard Tour’: £3.50. See ‘My Tour’ below. Book in advance.

DISTILLERY-EXCLUSIVE BOTTLINGS:      N/A

My Tour – 11/05/2010

THE RUNNING COMMENTARY:      ***

THE PROCESS AND EQUIPMENT:      **

Notes:      Tobermory also produces the peated whisky, Ledaig (LAID-chig). For this they use a peated malt from the Port Ellen maltings on Islay at 35 ppm. Production is split 50:50 between these two expressions and they were making Ledaig while I was there. Warehouse space is basically non-existant. Across the road from the distillery are the old warehouses, but these are now flats having been sold off during a financially difficult time in the company’s history. Spirit is now matured at Deanston distillery in the Highlands, then on to Bunnahabhain. However, they do have a teeny tiny warehouse which they keep for the 15YO, so that it might mature for its final period in the place of its birth. Quite right! The washbacks, interestingly, don’t have switchers. They don’t need them, but the devices themselves were stolen some time ago. Who would want to steal switchers?

GENEROSITY:      * (I’m going to give them a star because they do offer you a choice: either the Tobermory 10YO or the Ledaig 10YO.)

VALUE FOR MONEY:      *

SCORE:      6/10 *s

COMMENT:      I really enjoyed this tour. I really enjoyed Mull, actually, and I could consequently forgive the rather humourous brand film, which follows a young couple very much in love exploring Mull, and each others bottom lips. If the camera had stayed with them to their third or fourth Tobermory 15YO, I suspect things might have got rather fruity. From the Sherry casking, obviously… Alison was our guide and what an enthusiastic, welcoming soul. As became a trend for my subsequent distillery tours from this point on, I was one of the few native English-speakers, so she was very anxious to keep the large French contingent involved. She poured out generous measures of the two expressions in the dram room and implored each and every one of us to “enjoy that”. I had a Ledaig and I really did enjoy it. Properly peated malt was an exciting, auspicious flavour for the tours to come.

And looking at the visitor's centre from the maritime exhibition building.

And looking at the visitor's centre from the maritime exhibition building.

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