Jill Clark: Say cheese! Household staple will do you a fat lot of good

The owners of Connage Callum and Jill Clark.
The owners of Connage Callum and Jill Clark.
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Despite fat in foods being heralded as the ­enemy for so long, there’s change afoot and for one Scottish cheese producer, it’s good news.

Connage Highland Dairy is an award-winning cheese producer in the North East of Scotland, which has been using organic home-produced milk to make artisan, vegetarian cheese since 2006.

A traditional, family-owned, fully organic business, the Cheese Pantry is situated on the Clark’s family farm at Ardersier.

The farm was started by father Hamish and remains in the ­family today, owned by brothers Callum and Cameron and their wives Jill and Eileen. Callum and Jill manage the cheese side of the business using their years of experience to produce a fully traceable quality end product in multi award-winning cheese, whilst Cameron and Eileen undertake the majority of the work on the farm.

The organic dairy herd of 150 cows grazes the luscious clover pastures around the dairy and along the shores of the Moray Firth, giving a delicious creamy flavour to the range of nine Connage produced cheeses which include Dunlop (Cheddar), Clava Brie, Cromal (a light crumbly cheese), Gouda, Crowdie (a soft, spreadable cream cheese) and Bradan is Gruth, which is a collaboration with ­Hebridean Smokehouse (Crowdie combined with peat smoked salmon). Despite fat once being heralded as the number one food enemy, a title that has since been replaced by ­sugar, cheese has always remained a staple of the British diet.

Now though, there’s a stream of research and reports that cheese could actually be beneficial to our health. From boosting your immune system to helping you live longer, there’s more to how cheese can have an impact on your body than just ­giving you strange dreams!

A 2010 study from a Finnish university discovered that cheese can help preserve and enhance the immune system by acting as a carrier of ­probiotic bacteria, whilst a 2015 study by scientists at Aarhus University in Denmark suggested that fermented dairy products such as cheese could contribute to longevity and health. In addition, a 2013 study at the Academy of General Dentistry in the USA found that cheese could even prevent tooth decay, by making the mouth more alkaline and creating a protective film around the teeth.

Perhaps, more surprisingly, but wonderful news for some cheese fans, in 2009, a group of Australian researchers at a university in Perth claimed that a diet full of dairy ­products such as cheese could even help overweight people lose weight.

During the study, they found that those who consumed between three to five servings of dairy product a day lost the most weight. In addition, they also had lower blood pressure, less stomach fat and ‘significantly improved’ their chances of avoiding heart disease and diabetes.

With ethics in farming also prominent in the public consciousness, Connage has been working to the highest standards of animal welfare since it began. All products are fully traceable, with the very best quality controls from cow through to cheese.

Jill said: “We are getting an increasing number of enquiries with regards to the welfare of our herd and how we make our cheeses. For us, it’s important to get across that animal welfare is our number one priority.”

One of the other important things for Connage over the last 12 years has been the loyalty and support of ­customers. From members of the public to trade buyers and wholesalers, this support is what allows ­Connage to keep producing cheese.

Jill said: “We have a lot of fantastically loyal customers who not only keep returning to buy our products, but who recommend us to friends and family, and wax lyrical about us on social media! We’re always so grateful, and ­getting a nice comment or review can really make our day.”

Where once most people would have done all their shopping along their local high street, the invention of the supermarket had a huge effect on local suppliers and producers.

This seems to be coming full circle though, as more people are becoming conscious of the food they’re buying and where it comes from. Governments of all political persuasions should be doing all they can to support home-grown businesses that are ­producing quality products and working hard to persuade the public to buy British.

Connage cheeses can be bought online at www.connage.co.uk, direct from the on-farm Cheese Pantry and from a range of farm shops and delis.

Jill Clark, owner of Connage Highland Dairy.