ORKNEY cheese - first produced after the Second World War because of a massive milk surplus - has become the 13th Scottish food product to be granted special protection by the European Union.
It was announced today that the cheese is to join other distinctive Scottish products such as Stornoway black pudding, Arbroath smokies, and Scottish wild salmon in being awarded coveted Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status under the EU Protected Food Names (PFN) scheme.
The distinctive cheddar cheese was originally made on the islands at the site of a former RAF base near Kirkwall when the departure of 60,000 servicemen and women stationed on Orkney left local dairy farmers with more milk than they could sell.
It has been produced since 1946 with locally sourced milk from dairy farms on the islands following a recipe passed through generations.
The EU award protects Orkney cheese against unauthorised imitations and means that consumers are guaranteed they are buying the genuine, premium product, which is renowned for its distinct taste and unique production methods. Two other Orkney products - Orkney beef, and Orkney lamb - already enjoy coveted PGI status.
Announcing the award, Richard Lochhead, the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, said: “It’s superb news that Orkney Scottish Island Cheddar now holds this protected status, which helps guarantee the quality and reputation of this iconic product.
“The Scottish larder boasts some of the best produce in the world and this award further cements our global reputation for excellence. PGI status is recognised throughout Europe and beyond, indicating true provenance for a number of our best known foodstuffs.”
He continued: “Receiving the highly sought after PGI status is a real result for the local community in Orkney. Cheesemakers on the islands have worked extremely hard to achieve this successful application to the EU’s PFN scheme and I’m sure they’ll go on to reap the benefits.
“It is extremely important for the public to know where their food comes from. This scheme gives customers from both Scotland and further afield a guarantee that what they are buying is the genuine, high quality cheddar from Orkney. “
Mr Lochhead added: “It’s now 20 years since EU legislation brought in this level of protection for food names and Orkney Scottish Island Cheddar is our thirteenth successful award. PGI status undoubtedly helps increase valuable export sales and I would strongly encourage other Scottish producers to consider how they might also take advantage of the scheme.”
Tim Deakin, general manager at Orkney Scottish Island Cheddar, explained the product’s wartime beginnings.
He said: “The history of our product is unusual - the creamery was built after World War II on the site of a former RAF base just outside Kirkwall. At the end of the war, the departure of 60,000 servicemen and women stationed on the islands left a surplus of milk amongst the local dairy farmers. They decided to join forces and ever since, the production of Orkney Scottish Island Cheddar has remained true to traditional methods.”
Mr Deakin added: “The whole company is delighted to receive PGI status, in recognition of the fact that Orkney Cheddar is produced with locally sourced milk from the Orkney Isles following a traditional recipe and process. Production is a marrying of the local Orkney Island milk and the crafted techniques of its forefathers who created the cheese in 1946 and have passed down their expertise through generations of Orcadian dairy farmers.
“The accreditation communicates to our consumers the uniqueness and heritage of Orkney Scottish Island Cheddar, which differs from other traditional cheddars due to its unique dry stir production method. “
Liam McArthur, Orkney’s MSP, also welcomed the award. He said: “I am delighted that Orkney Cheddar has become the 13th Scottish product with an EU Protected Food Name, ensuring that cheese lovers around the world can trust that they are eating the true Orkney product, made to the highest standards.
“It is a long, arduous process gaining this status, but it is worth it to have the legal protection against imitation by inferior products. Orkney Cheddar is a unique product of the isles, and that is worth celebrating.”