FROM humble beginnings just a few years ago, Scottish Food & Drink Fortnight has grown into a proper national celebration of what this country has to offer.
Kicking off today, more than 250 foodie events are scheduled over the next two weeks. The line-up ranges from major city food festivals with celebrity guests to artisan cheesemaking in the depths of rural Scotland.
From Stornoway to Stranraer, all the events share a common theme of marking the harvest with a feast of what makes Scotland special.
I grew up in Dumfries and Galloway, where back then local produce meant Moffat Toffee and not much else. Now that region contributes 90 events to the September celebration under their own banner, Savour The Flavours. This year the line-up ranges from cider-making to bread-baking and salmon-smoking.
With 2013 being Year of Natural Scotland, events outside the big cities are grabbing their moment in the spotlight. Best of the West in Argyll, the Loch Lomond Food and Drink Festival, Taste Ayrshire, City of Elgin Food and Drink Festival and Huntly Hairst are all flying for Fortnight around the country.
What is great to see is the breadth of what is on offer. In Huntly today that means the annual World Stovie Championships. You can’t get more traditionally Scottish than that, but elsewhere in Scotland Polish, Indian and Spanish cooks will be showing what happens when our amazing produce is applied to their culinary traditions.
More and more chefs are also using Fortnight as a chance to reinforce the link they have with their suppliers. The Scottish Café in Edinburgh is today showcasing the 60 local food producers they use by bringing some of them together to meet the public.
All of this begs the question, where do we go from here ? Despite so much progress, the public appetite for the story behind the food we eat and what we drink doesn’t seem to be waning.
In Wales, the demise this summer of a quality assurance scheme has led to calls for a fundamental review of where food and drink is going there.
In Scotland, there is a clear strategy and a sense of momentum. This week’s remarkable figures from the whisky industry perhaps point the way ahead, with exports up 11 per cent in the first six months to £1.987 billion. Scottish salmon is also booming in the international marketplaces.
The people who eat premium Scottish premium produce around the world have already signed up to the quality of what is on offer and the pristine environment it comes from.
That gives them the potential to be built into a new tourism market, giving a further much-needed boost to the Scottish economy. With that in mind, developing Scottish Food and Drink Fortnight into an international visitor attraction must be the big opportunity in the years ahead.