Meeting or eating, the Highland Show is the place to be

FOCUS on food and drink as celebrity chefs and producers gather to show off the best Scotland has to offer, writes Claire Smith.

With preparations hotting up for this year’s Royal Highland Show, food is becoming a focus more than ever before.

The annual event when the country comes to the town – or at least to the Royal Highland Showground at Ingliston – has always been a popular meeting-place for farmers and a great day out for families.

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But more than ever, before the show this year will be a mecca for food-lovers, with artisan producers from all over Scotland coming to show of their wares and some of Scotland’s top chefs coming along to cook their produce.

James Withers, chief executive of industry body Scotland Food and Drink, said: “The Royal Highland Show has always been known as a day when Scotland’s farmers come to town.

“But it is becoming a real show for foodies as well.”

Around 160,000 people are expected to come through the gates at Ingliston between 21 and 24 June, and 120,000 of them are expected to visit the food hall.

As well as local producers of cheese, biscuits, seafood and meats from different parts of Scotland, this year’s show will also feature presentations from local authorities keen to showcase the food produced in their local area. A special focus will be on products from Dumfries and Galloway, while Midlothian and East Lothian are showcasing local products for the first time.

Show manager David Dunsmuir said: “This is an excellent way of introducing smaller, local producers to our extensive audience.

“It is encouraging that more councils are promoting local food and drink in this way and we are sure the show will provide the ideal platform.

“Food and drink production is an important economic driver and it is encouraging that we have more regional stands this year. As an event highlighting the whole chain from farm production to retail counter, we want to put across a strong message about our great Scottish produce.

“That, coupled with some hand-picked exhibitors from other areas, makes the Food Hall and the Cookery Theatre a priority on any show visitor’s itinerary.

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”If you want to see Scotland’s farming, food and countryside in one location, this is the place to be.”

Chefs doing cookery demonstrations at the show include Lady Claire Macdonald, from the Michelin-starred Kinloch Lodge on Skye, Ross Marshall, of the Old Course Hotel, St Andrews, and Paul Wedgwood, from Wedgwood, in Edinburgh.

This year’s theme “Naturally Inspiring” has attracted local producers from across Scotland. A number of winning and short-listed companies from the 2012 Scotland Food & Drink Excellence Awards will be exhibiting. They include Macsween, which won the retail meat category with its microwaveable range of haggis and black pudding, and the Spencerfield Spirit Company which was named export business of the year for overseas sales of gin and whisky.

The food hall will feature products from bigger companies, such as Mackies’ ice cream and Walkers shortbread to smaller producers such as The Wee Pie Company from Glendoick and Saladworx from Dornoch – which won last year’s Excellence Award with its range of Highland-grown salad, herbs and edible flowers.

Vicky Banks, director of Seriously Good Venison in Auchtermuchty, said the Royal Highland Show was a key part of her year.

“It is the biggest show we do and we go every year. We always get good feedback and get new customers and usually all the old favourites come back and say they have been looking for us.”

Seriously Good Venison, which took over the long-established company Fletchers of Auchtermuchty, sells “head to hoof” venison products, including tongue and venison haggis. The company also brings hundreds of ready-made Wee Veni Pies, which are a favourite with fair-goers.

She says: “It is brilliant, I really enjoy it. It is good for meeting new farmers and it’s also good to explain to people that not all venison comes from big estates. A lot of people don’t realise our farmed venison is available all year round.”

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Withers said the opportunity to meet local producers of food had become a key attraction for visitors to the Royal Highland Show.

“I think what we have seen over the last five years is a real resurgence in local food. People more and more are interested in where their food comes from and how it is produced. And Scotland’s reputation as a producer of food and drink is growing. Sales of Scottish food and drink have gone up 35 per cent since 2007 and exports of seafood are up 62 per cent. The recession is making this all the more marked. People are thinking more and more about their food choices.”