The Best Scottish Cheeses:
Diverse, exciting, and a little something for everyone.
Confession time. My name is Matt and I have a small issue with cheese addiction. Occasionally I can resist, but with the best Scottish cheeses in my fridge, resistance is futile.
Most people I know (including Katie) talk about their struggle not to finish an entire share size bag of crisps or sweets on their own (“share size” is the biggest joke in food packaging). My issue, however, is trying not to eat entire blocks of cheese in one sitting.
I lay the blame firmly at the feet of a lifetime working in restaurants with cheese trolleys. And, I would have been pretty bad at my job if I didn’t know EVERYTHING there was to know about the cheeses on offer. So, this meant endlessly tasting them – it’s a hard life.
Based on years of tasting, I can attest that Scotland has a wonderful array of grate cheeses (I promise, no more bad puns). I will always say that France is the master of cheese but Scotland certainly holds it’s own. We have a superb selection which is constantly growing and improving. Read on to understand the different types of cheese and what to accompany your cheese with. Here we’ve listed the best Scottish cheeses our bonnie isle has to offer. Just know, a lot of very taxing, difficult research and tasting went into this.
The 6 Types of Cheese: A brief guideTo fully understand what is a Scottish cheese, we need to get to grips with the different types of cheese on offer. The best Scottish cheeses come in many forms, so we’ll quickly run through the general styles you’ll find. There are, however, many factors which impact the final product so there can be quite a variation between each cheese in these 6 general styles. It’s also worth noting whether the cheese is made from pasteurised or unpasteurised milk. This does affect the flavour and also the suitability if, for example, you are pregnant.
Fresh (No rind)Well-known examples: Mozzarella, Ricotta These are cheeses which are only a few days old so no rind has developed yet. They, therefore, look the same inside and out. Cheeses in this category can be mousse-like, stringy or crumbly if they’ve been pickled in salt like Feta. They are white, creamy, mild and usually have a slightly acidic flavour. Some rindless cheeses have added flavour from being wrapped in leaves, rolled in ash or coated in herbs.
Aged Fresh Cheese (wrinkled white or grey-blue rind)Well-knoen examples: Valencay, Sainte-Maure de Touraine The types of Scottish cheeses in this style are almost always goat cheeses. They are aged to the point where a very thin rind develops. This becomes wrinkly as the cheese shrinks. Then a thin layer of blue/grey mould develops on the outside. These cheeses usually have quite an intense goat milk flavour and high acidity.
Soft White Rind (white fuzzy rind)Well-known examples: Chaource, Brie, Camembert These cheeses grow a soft, fuzzy rind of penicillin candidum around the cheese. This layer of mould protects the cheese from drying out and helps to mature it. Young cheeses of this style are creamy and mild with a hint of mushrooms. As they age, they become far more pungent and have a very savoury aroma. You will also find double and triple cream cheeses of this type (yes triple cream is a thing). The extra fat makes them less runny allowing you to eat them fresh or mature.
Semi-Soft (Fine to thick grey-brown rid or orange and sticky)Well-known examples: Edam, Reblochon, Epoisses, Stinking bishop With this style, the curds are lightly pressed to remove the whey and create a rubbery texture. Grey, white and brown moulds build up but get brushed off, creating a thicker, leathery rind. Some, like Edam, have barely formed a rind and are very mild. Those with thicker, mould encrusted rinds are denser, much stronger in flavour and earthy. Some examples of this type of Scottish cheese are repeatedly washed in brine and then finished with alcohol. This promotes the growth of sticky orange bacteria to develop. These cheeses are much stronger in flavour and more pungent.
Hard (crusty, grey; often polished, waxed or oiled)Well-known examples: Cheddar, Pecorino, Manchego, Parmesan Hard cheeses are pressed for anywhere between a few hours up to several weeks. This process removes the whey and compacts the curd. In Britain, the traditional method was to wrap hard cheese in cloth. Whilst in Europe, the cheese was usually brined. The purpose of both methods was to protect the cheese from drying out during the maturation process in the curing cellars for months or even years. The mould is typically brushed off as it forms. This produces either a thick polished rind like Parmesan or no rind at all like Cheddar. These types of Scottish cheese take a long time to mature, have a low moisture content, and are generally strong in flavour.
Blue (gritty, rough, sometimes sticky rind)Well-known examples: Stilton, Gorgonzola, Roquefort In this style, blue penicillum mould is sprinkled into the vat before the milk is curdled. The curd then gets cut, put into moulds and drained. The penicillum needs air to develop so the cheese is pierced to allow air to move through the curd. The interaction between the blue mould and the curd as the cheese ages creates a spicy flavour. Brie style blue cheeses tend to be much lighter in flavour such as Montbriac.
Scottish Fresh and Fresh aged Cheeses
CabocBelieved to be Scotland’s oldest cheese, Caboc is certainly one of the best Scottish cheeses. It is a double cream cheese which is matured without the addition of rennet. The cheeses are shaped into logs and rolled in toasted pinhead oats. The cheese has a fat content of 67% (for reference butter has a fat content of around 80%) making it rich, smooth, creamy and glorious. The recipe has been kept secret for 600 hundred years. Even now it is only known by Suzannah Stone of Highland Fine Cheeses in Tain. Style: Aged fresh cheese Milk: Pasteurised Cows’
First up on our best Scottish cheeses list is Crowdie. According to legend, the Vikings brought Crowdie to Scotland and, even now, is still made in the traditional way. Skimmed milk curd is hung in muslin bags creating a very soft, creamy cheese with a slightly sharp edge. Many believe that crowdie is the ideal food to eat before a ceilidh (traditional Scottish dancing) to help take the edge off a few too many drams of whisky. The soft crowdie cheese is rolled with toasted oats or flavoured with black peppercorns.
You will find variations of Crowdie across Scotland such as Black Crowdie, Gruth Dhu, Crannog and Hramsa.
Style: Fresh Cheese
Milk: Pasteurised Cows’
So not the most Scottish of cheese names, but Sir Lancelot is a glorious soft cheese made by Errington Cheese in Lanark. It is made with unpasteurised ewes’ milk and minimal rennet. This lactic cheese has a natural rind which varies from batch to batch. Sir Lancelot is only made in Summer and Autumn due to the excess milk produced by the ewes in these seasons.
With an almost fudge-like consistency when young, the cheese becomes runnier as it ages. The mould which develops on the outside of the cheese adds depth of flavour. Make sure you have a cheese spoon as well as a cheese knife for this one!
Style: Aged fresh cheese
Scottish Soft White Rind Cheeses
Connage Clava BrieNext up is another silky smooth, creamy Brie style cheese from the Highlands. Clava Brie, made by Connage Highland Dairy, takes its name from the Pre-Historic burial cairns of Bulnuaran of Clava. Connage Highland Dairy is a family-run, organic farm. They have won multiple awards over the years. The delicate curd is ladled into moulds in their climate-controlled store to age. Once aged, it is hand wrapped. The result is a mild brie style cheese which you can enjoy straight from the fridge or at room temperature. Serving at room temperature will bring out some of the more bold flavours. Style: Soft White Rind Milk: Pasteurised Cows’
This mild, creamy brie is made by Highland Fine Cheeses near Tain. They started making cheese after starting to make the ancient Caboc Cheese from their micro-dairy. The purchased a 10-gallon churn, then realised it produced a bit more cheese than expected.
They now focus on mould-ripened cheeses with a washed rind, blue cheeses, as well as the brie style.
The Morangie Blue is a classic young brie. As it ages it picks up more savoury notes.
Style: Soft White Rind
Scottish Semi-Soft Cheese
Scottish Blue Cheeses
Blue MurderBlue Murder is the cheesy creation of Alex James, the ex-Blur bass player, and British food champion Juliet Harbut. Its original name was Blue Monday, named after a New Order song. Being a semi-soft blue cheese, Blue Murder is a creamier blue cheese in the style of Gorgonzola Picante. Plus it is just an outstanding cheese name. Blue Murder is a blue cheese made from pasteurised cows’ milk and aged for up to 8 weeks. This sweet, creamy and slightly spicy blue cheese is a good gateway blue for those a bit wary of the stronger flavours of more bold blue cheeses. Style: Blue Cheese Milk: Pasteurised Cows’
Lanark Blue is Scotland’s answer to Roquefort. It is the most famous product made by Errington Cheese. They make Lanark Blue from unpasteurised ewes’ milk meaning the cheese is seasonal (the ewes can only be milked from January to September).
The flavour of this cheese will vary throughout the year. In the early season, Spring, Lanark Blue will be creamy and sweet, with a delicate blue flavour from the veins. The cheeses for Christmas time and Burns’ Night will be more powerful and pungent.
Style: Blue Cheese
Scottish Hard Cheeses
The majority of the best Scottish cheeses fall under the hard cheese category. There is no greater place to start than with Red Anster.
Red Anster is a dry, crumbly cheese with big garlic and chive flavours. It has a thin grey rind which adds flavour as it matures. St. Andrews Farmhouse make it with unpasteurised cows milk from their own herd. This ensures quality and safety. They also have Anster, Mature Anster, and Smoked Anster if garlic and chive cheese isn’t for you.
Style: Hard Cheese
Milk: Unpasteurised Cows’
Cambus O’May is made by Andy Reid who remembers his mother making cheese from 2 days worth of milk. She did so as there was never enough left from just one day to make cheese. He has continued this method of using the curd from 2 different days. This curd is cut, placed in muslin lined moulds and pressed.
This hard cheese has a marbled texture and an incredibly creamy mouthfeel. It is sharp with big rustic notes. You won’t be disappointed by Cambus O’May, it is one of the finest hard cheeses made in the UK and certainly deserves its spot in the best Scottish cheeses list.
Style: Hard Cheese
Milk: Unpasteurised cows’
The Orkney Cheddar is made exclusively from the milk of cows from the island of Orkney. You will find Orkney Cheddar ranging in flavour from sweet and mild in the younger cheeses (6 months old) to more nutty and sharp in the mature varieties (12-15 months). The distinct flavour profile is a culmination of the cows being fed grass in summer and barley and root vegetables in winter. The unique flavour in the cows’ milk is ideal for artisan cheese making.
In 2013, Orkney Scottish Island Cheddar was given protected status by the EU. The Protected Geographical Indication highlights the traditional methods used (passed down since 1946) and uniqueness in comparison to other cheddar cheeses.
Orkney Cheddar is much easier to get hold of than a lot of the best Scottish cheeses. It is ideal for those beginning their cheese obsession.
Style: Hard Cheese
Milk: Pasteurised Cows’
This ewes’ milk cheese is the signature cheese from Galloway Farmhouse Cheese. It is a hard cheese with a texture like a moist cheddar. The cheese is aged for 7 to 9 months and is only made from April to October.
The flavour of Cairnsmore Cheese is aromatic with caramel and burnt toffee notes. This nutty cheese is a nice contrast to some of the sharper hard cheeses you will find.
Style: Hard Cheese
Milk: Unpasteurised ewes’
Isle of Mull Cheddar
Cheesemaking as a way to preserve milk has been critical to life on the Scottish islands for over 1000 years. The Isle of Mull is very proud of their tradition of making hard cheeses from unpasteurised cows’ milk. They take great care at every stage of the process to make this exemplary Scottish cheese.
Seasonal variation in the colour comes from changes in the diet of the cattle from winter to summer. Blue veins will sometimes appear in very mature versions of the cheese, which adds additional flavour.
Isle of Mull Cheddar is a rich, savoury cheddar which is drier than most. Punchy flavours and a crumbly texture with crystalised salt are the signatures of this cheese.
Style: Hard Cheese
Milk: Unpasteurised Cows’
Bonnington LinnBonnington Linn takes its name from a waterfall near New Lanark in Scotland. It is a hard, unpasteurised goats’ milk cheese and a relatively new addition to the Errington Cheese line-up. Due to its infancy, we’re still learning how it changes during ageing. Bonnington Linn spends a minimum of 6 months in a cheesecloth to age, producing a thin rind. Some are even aged up to 2 years in a test of the differing flavour profiles throughout aging. The flavour is creamy and crumbly with the sharpness you’d expect of a goat’s cheese. But it doesn’t have the same level of “goaty” flavour found in younger cheeses. Style: Hard Cheese Milk: Unpasteurised Goats’
What to have with your cheeseFor me, this is a very simple thing to answer: whatever you darn well please. I don’t buy into the idea that certain things are right or wrong for enjoying with cheese. Although this probably makes me terrible at my Sommelier job!
What Food to Have with CheeseIf you love to put butter on your cheese crackers, then on you go. Prefer to just eat the cheese? That’s fine too. You can pay a lot for fancy biscuits and chutneys and so on but it all comes down to personal taste. Personally I’m a cheese and water biscuit guy – particularly the water biscuits which were near the top of the oven so much darker in colour. Honestly, the staff at one restaurant I worked in used to save these ones for me to eat. But I’m also a big proponent of a digestive biscuit with cheddar or ginger snap with blue cheese (seriously, try it. Life-changing stuff).
Wine and Cheese MatchingWhen it comes to drinks with cheese it’s a touch more complex but generally the same. As a starting point, find the wine from the same region as your cheese. Although this is not so easy in the well-known wine-producing region of Scotland… However, across France, in particular, you’ll find this method works well. Sauternes with Roquefort; Pinot Noir with Epoisses; Sauvignon Blanc with Saint-Maure de Touraine. Matches made in heaven. If you’re having a selection of different cheeses then you can grab some fortified wine like port or sweet sherry. Sweet red wines like Maury are also excellent.
What Other Drinks can you Match with Cheese?Personally, I’m a huge fan of a nice IPA with cheese. At one place I worked as Sommelier, I served this on the wine pairing menu for about 6 months and it went down a storm. IPA is particularly good with cheddar. Also, a high quality sweet, red vermouth does very well with a selection of cheese. I served Antica Distilleria Quaglia, Vermouth Professore Rosso with the cheese for over a year as it was so popular When I changed it, regulars demanded I bring it back as it was so good. But again, drink whatever it is that you enjoy and ignore the joyless people who sneer at you for it. The best Scottish cheeses are made for enjoyment, not stress over the “perfect” match.
Scotland is abundant in beautiful landscapes, perfect for creating a diverse and exciting food scene.
Click here to read all about the top Scottish foods and drinks to enjoy on your next trip.
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The Plate Unknown is an educational food blog. Here we share information about world food culture, the origin of dishes from around the world, and tips for taking a food-focused trip.