Ronnie Eunson and Uradale Croft

As the most northerly islands of the UK, Shetland is on latitude with Helsinki and St. Petersburg, which might not conjure up a cornucopia of culinary delights. Wrong! The seafood from Shetland parallels any I’ve ever tasted in the world. And, as noted above, Dave Parham’s smoked salmon is sublime.

Ronnie Eunson’s native Shetland sheep and cattle are in my humble opinion culinary treasures. A native of Shetland, Ronnie traveled far only to return home to pursue his passion of farming. Ronnie’s father, who recognized in his son academic abilities, wanted him to attend University rather than follow in his own footsteps as a butcher. With an engineering background and profound love of the sea, he followed his heart to fishing. Discovering that he was profoundly affected by seasickness, he returned to his birthplace and terra firma.

A non-conformist by nature, Ronnie is attracted to Shetland’s inability as an agricultural region to be measured by consistency and volume.

Ronnie thrives in being a crofter in Shetland because, “Shetland can not be tamed – it is a rock amidst restless seas and thus does not conform with global standards of industrial food production. Life in this part of the world will always be a compromise. The climate is harsh and the soils unrelenting. This is part of the Scandinavian periphery where people are fought with the environment and often each other,” says Ronnie.

Needless to say, meeting Ronnie Eunson and his lovely wife Sue was among my greatest pleasures in Shetland. I plan to expand upon this posting with a longer blog and more photos and submit it to thedailymeal.com. I’ll send you a link when it’s up.

Ronnie Eunson, his wife Sue and their daughter

Ronnie Eunson, his wife Sue and their daughter

In the meantime, let it suffice to say that Ronnie and Ann Johnson and others in Shetland have a huge job in bringing notoriety to their Shetland growing region. I wish them the greatest of luck and have promised to be helpful if possible.

Shetland Cheese Ltd. — Skeld Creamery

Over the past 34 years, I’ve visited and introduced food & wine media to so many magnificent Sonoma County artisan cheese makers it’s somewhat ironic that it takes a visit to Shetland for me to learn first hand how to actually make cheese.  Susie gathered friends, and the five of us set off for an adventure in artisan cheese making.

I had met Skeld Creamery Owner Jay Hawkins the night before at a specialty food purveyors meeting. At this meeting, I was flooded with memories of being with Select Sonoma members 25+ years earlier when we were challenged in knowing that our specialty foods were worthy of global attention yet not at all clear as to how to bring notoriety to our unique Sonoma County growing region, and to the growers who were dedicating their lives to making a difference with food.

Ann Johnson from Scoop, the shop that sells whole foods in Shetland, thought it might be helpful for me to address their group. It was with great pride that I gave a brief historical perspective of the past three decades of Sonoma County’s success to encourage these Shetland crofters to keep on keeping on. Remembering the Gauer Estate Vineyard train experiences in which we FedExed Sonoma County lamb, fish, berries, squash, apples, et al to train stations throughout the country for meals prepared by our traveling Chef Matthew Gibson for media, trade and VIP influencers of wine and food made me smile.  I also told them of Julia Child’s 1990 visit when Saralee Kunde and Bruce Campbell among others arranged a Select Sonoma Tour of farms culminating with a lunch at the exquisite 5,500 acre Gauer Ranch, which now belongs to the Jackson Family.

But, again, I digress…..On to cheese making in Shetland with Jay Hawkins! Having been told that cheese had never been made on the Shetland Islands, a risk-taker and man looking for a more creative way to earn a living, Jay uprooted his family from Britain and established Shetland Cheese Ltd in 2010. He now sells hand made cheeses to local hotels and restaurants and is looking to soon export his cheeses throughout Europe.

We made Soothe Mooth Cheese, which is a fermented rather crumbly hard cheese and it will be ready for Christmas.  One thing I learned is that it takes a long time to make one pound of cheese. And, that Jay has two incredibly engaging sons….lovely to meet you all and thank you for such a memorable day.

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Jay Hawkins and the next generation of artisan Shetland cheese makers

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Mel and Marie stirring the curds into existence

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The cheese making team sealing a different batch of cheese with cheesecloth and melted lard

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Our day’s effort — Soothe Mooth cheese ready for three months of aging and additional attention and loving care from Jay….

A Taste of Shetland

You are probably wondering why it’s taken so long for me to write about the food of Shetland. I’ve been so engaged with the eating and exploring of the food culture here that I’ve been a bit remiss in writing of my observations, not to mention sharing some of the photos of what we’ve been eating. Let it suffice to say that Shetland is a haven for fish lovers, as well as for those with a palate for exquisitely raised food.  Fish and lamb are the specialties, and I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Dave Parham, arguably the most respected fish expert on the island, and Ronnie Eunson, who farms near the village of Scalloway on Shetland’s West Coast. Ronnie focuses on the art of raising native lamb and beef using organic practices. Perfection is the word that comes to mind for both the smoked salmon cured by Dave and the lamb and beef raised and butchered by Ronnie.  Pure bliss.

The smoked salmon sits on the tongue with the most exquisite and delicate smoked flavors and then dissolves slowly. This salmon is best enjoyed when savoring on it’s own — razor thin slices of heaven. In my early twenties, when I traveled to London I always brought smoked salmon from Harrods home to my father.  If only he had been able to taste Dave’s smoked salmon from Shetland!

The lamb… Ahhhhhhh…. Ronnie is convinced that the difference with his lamb lies in the size of the lambs and on with what they eat. The Shetland Sheep are smaller and graze on seaweed and heather.

Not sure that I’ve mentioned that my cousin Susie is a professional chef and her art is in honoring the simplicity of fine food. She and I have been feasting on these delicacies for 12 days alternating between the salmon and lamb as our chief indulgences. Eating with Susie in Shetland has been a pleasure that escapes words.  I’ll devote a separate blog to Ronnie Eunson, explaining the intricacies of his work with native Shetland Sheep and a native breed of cows. In the meantime, let me introduce you to Ann Johnson, co-owner of Scoop.

http://www.scoopwholefoods.co.uk/Home.aspx

Scoop is the Shetland whole foods store where Susie buys Ronnie’s lamb and beef, Shetland handmade cheeses, and fresh, local vegetables grown on the island, along with other specialties of this magical place.

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Scoop Wholefoods in Shetland Co-Owned by Ann Johnson

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Food from throughout the island is sold at Scoop

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Dave and Trish Parham and their Handmade Fish

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Fresh Shetland Salmon

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Salmon in the smoker….Serious Yummmmm

Eela at Vidlin

Eela is a fishing competition that occurs in various Shetland villages throughout the summer.  This past weekend it was held in the town of Vidlin where Susie lives. This photo is of John Arthur, a friend of Susie’s, who at 13 years old won the competition for the juniors and beat out many older men for competitions including number of species and weight.  Congratulations John Arthur. 

Bert, is in the previous photo. He was kind enough to share fish that was given to him with Susie and me.  And, he even cleaned it for us!

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Renewable Energy — Windmills

Shetland is one of the most promising locations in the world for the development of renewable energy.  Winds and tides offer the opportunity to generate very large amounts of electricity, far more than the islands alone could ever use. Currently, there is no electrical connection between Shetland and the UK mainland, which means that most of Shetland’s electricity has to be generated in Lerwick by a diesel power station. However, some electricity – sometimes up to about 20% of demand – is generated either by the five turbines at the small Burradale wind farm just west of Lerwick or by those that increasingly provide power to community halls and some houses.

There are proposals for a very large wind farm (Viking Wind Farm) which – if permission is granted – would be built in the north of Shetland’s central mainland. It would generate around up to 457MW of power, about half as much as a typical nuclear power station. The electricity would be exported via a sub-sea cable to the UK mainland.  127 large turbines are proposed. The project is a partnership between Viking Energy Ltd (of which the Shetland Charitable Trust owns 90%) and a subsidiary of Scottish and Southern Energy, which would share the profits.

Many Shetland residents are profoundly concerned about the cost to the environment and the possible costs to the community both in health and wealth. Those who are in favor believe that the community investment is going to bring them enormous returns and have invested their trust without evidence. Clearly, there is much debate about the benefits of this Wind Farm, which would by far be the largest in Scotland.  The Viking Farm would have well over 100 windmills at over 2 times the height of those pictured below.

Vidlin

Vidlin is the name of the small village where my cousins Susie, John and Jane Jacobs live in the Shetland Islands of Scotland. It is at the head of Vidlin Voe, and is the modern heart of the old parish of Lunnasting, which centered on the early church at Lunna on Lunna Ness. Vidlin is one of the most charming villages imaginable. In addition to the church, it is home to a small school of 25 children ranging in age from 4 to 12, the Vidlin Village Hall, lots and lots of sheep, water, rabbits and more sheep.

The village of Vidlin

The village of Vidlin

The Vidlin school garden

The Vidlin school garden

A windmill that provides energy for the Vidlin school

A windmill that provides energy for the Vidlin school

View from the Vidlin School entrance

View from the Vidlin School entrance