Thursday, 30 June 2011

Food Travel: Aberfeldy, Scotland

With my day off I took a trip to Aberfeldy (would have been a nightmare by public transport, but thankfully Hugh was off as well, so he was able to give me a lift on his way through to do some climbing). Aberfeldy is one of the bigger towns in the near distance from Ardeonaig and its range of shops and culinary hotspots is proportionally higher as well. Time to explore...

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I'd arrived in Aberfeldy fairly early, around ten to nine. Not much was open, but after two or three wanders up and down the high street I spotted a little bakeware and cookshop that was open - Dow's. Primarily, Dow's sells cookery ware like pie tins, mixing bowls and other assorted kitchen equipment (quite a lot of Joseph Joseph stuff actually) but at the back of the shop there is also a little kitchen where the owner makes up batches of scones and other baked goods to sell front of house.

He was just loading up the Dewar's Distillery van with their allocation of scones (more on the distillery later). After he'd finished, we had a wee chat about the local area and I enquired after a Tarte Tatin dish – he had none, but did have a range of pie dishes that can be used on the hob, so I may pick one up another time. I then bought myself a scone to keep me going until some of the other shops opened up to provide a real breakfast...

It has to be said though, there's nothing quite like a warm scone straight out the oven slathered in butter and jam. A delicious way to start a day's indulgences.

Right across the road from Dow's was another tantalising prospect – and one of the few shops that was also open so early! A specialist food shop going by the name of Fields of Perth. This was one of the highlights of the day. An establishment offering a wide variety of more unusual foods (raspberry balsamic vinegar anyone?) was a most welcome surprise in such a small town.

The owner (I'm saying the owner again – I really wish I'd asked people their names! Next time...) confided that when Fields had first opened around six weeks ago their stock had included some particularly unusual items, but that this had had to be curtailed a little due to customers not knowing what to do with some of the produce on offer! It was good to see harder to get items for sale though, and I helped myself to a bundle of samphire and a bottle of white wine vinegar.

The staff were kind enough to pose for a photo behind the charcuterie counter (there's also a fantastic cheese and fish selection) and were more than friendly and helpful. I'll definitely be back when I'm looking to cook to impress...

With ten o'clock fast approaching, it was time to get some proper breakfast. I popped into one of the many cafes in the town – the Breadalbane Bakery. A full Scottish breakfast later (and a pack of Aberfeldy Oaties for later – oaties are similar to oatcakes, but thicker and sweeter) and I was ready to wander the town again.

One particular incident in the tearoom caught my ear though. One customer had asked for a breakfast, only to be asked by the lady behind the counter whether he'd like an English or Scottish breakfast. He turned and winked at the room, asking aloud "An English breakfast? Naw, ah widnae eat that!". I love Scotland. It's good to be home...

A quick look through the cookery books in the thrift shop turned up an interesting find. A fifty year old hardback called 'Larousse Treasury of Country Cooking Around the World'. It's an absolute treasure trove of unusual recipes from all over the place. I'm sure some of these will be finding their way onto the blog at some point.

My next stop was at the local whisky distillery – the world renowned Dewar's. Having never tried whisky before I wasn't really sure quite what to expect. Dewar's is still a working distillery, but they've also built a museum in part of the building that's no longer operational and run a variety of tours.

I decided to go on the cask tour, which is a little more comprehensive than the basic one. I was the only one on the tour which meant I could take it at my own pace and take everything in – it was a particularly enjoyable experience.

Opening with a ten minute mini cinema screening of the history of Dewar's and the distilling process they use to create their whisky. This was followed by a self-guided tour of the little museum in the main building. It's a fascinating place, documenting the history of the brand, the exact processes they use in the creation of the drink, and every piece of trivia and information you could ever want to know about Dewar's and whisky in general.

The museum flows through into the dramming bar where you're offered a glass of Dewar's from one of three malts and blends. The whisky is a beautiful, fruity drink with honey notes that are just stunning.

After about twenty minutes of sipping, it was on to the next part of the tour. The tour guide, Jim (finally a name!) took me round the distillery explaining all the machinery and each part of the process. With only myself on the tour, it was very personal and excellently tailored. Jim was more than capable of fielding questions, and his insightful and interesting anecdotes really helped to bring across the family atmosphere that Dewar's tries to instil in its employees (indeed, many of the staff have taken over their roles in the distillery from their parents).

After a tour of the works, I was taken out to the warehouse where a few casks are kept (though most are shipped out to Glasgow for export). Jim explained the casking process and a few other details about the warehouses before tapping one of the casks for me to taste the casked whisky (complimentary glass!). This is the drink in it's highest volume state before distilled water is added during bottling.

While the alcohol level was around 60%, the drink still retained it's beautiful flavour and aromatic nose. In fact the smell of the whole place was just incredible. Very sweet and heady.

And finally it was back to the inevitable gift shop for a last wee mill round before leaving. I picked up a book on Tommy Dewar's globetrotting marketing strategies and of course a small bottle of whisky.

By this point, Hugh had finished his climb with Kris, and the two of them met me in Aberfeldy for a coffee at the Watermill. The Watermill is 'Feldy's answer to the pretentious art meets literature meets tea and coffee establishments that are so frustratingly fashionable at the moment.

I struggle with these places because while the quality of the food and drink is usually fine, it is always so very overpriced. The atmosphere in this sort of place I always find to be a bit tedious as well – all a bit overly quiet and austere. Not my thing.

Still, one more delight was yet to come – a visit to Cones in the centre of the town. A pokey wee ice cream shop that also sells local confectionary. The ice creams are beautiful and the range includes a few Scottish themed flavours like Cranachan and Tablet. Well worth a visit on a sunny day like it was (amazingly!).

And so that was Aberfeldy, and a very pleasant experience it was. I'm sure I'll be back soon to visit Fields of Perth and to pick up that pie dish from Dow's...

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Coming up:
- Got to make something with that samphire...

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