Friday, January 29, 2016

Deer Diary, pt. 3

by Lesley Gillespie

Part 3 - Is Deer too Dear? 

It was the first Saturday of the year and 5am. I had been woken by slates rattling on the roof and the battering of sleet on the window. I rolled over. It was a perfect morning for a lie in. No-one in their right mind would have been up at this time. 

But Steve was. He had set off in the dark through the deep snow in his 4x4 laden with game ready for sale at the farmers' market. By 6.30am he and the other stallholders were desperately trying to erect their gazebos in 40-mile-an-hour winds on top of the sheet of ice that covered the car park. I could see the ropes tied to the railings holding the stall in place when I arrived at 11. No need for any refrigeration today – the meat on sale was already crystallizing with ice. It looked as if the drip on the end of Steve’s nose was about to do the same. 

Sales had been poor and I wanted to buy the whole stall out of sheer pity but with Xmas over and three weeks till payday there had to be restraint. I packed my mince and stew into my bag alongside the usual pile of stock bones given away for free. Another customer gingerly approached the stall.  Picking up some meat, he announced “Aat’s affa dear, I kin get it cheaper it Tesco”. 

Knowing the man hours and skill that had gone into it reaching market, I barely had time to be outraged before witnessing a sales pitch to end all sales pitches. Steve began the blether with the subject of provenance, the story of where the deer came from, how he was the one who shot it, how he had hung it for weeks in order to reach the perfect flavour and how he then carefully carved the joints, packed and stored them ready for loading and transporting at 5am this morning. Next in the firing line was the health benefits and nutritional information. A conversation on value for money followed, some no-shrinkage cooking advice and then finally some chat on the wonderful taste and enjoyment to be had from this animal.  

I have already talked about Steve being a one-man food chain but a one-man venison marketing board could easily be added to his list of credentials. He is a man on a mission. The personal rewards that come from sharing his passion and love of deer are evident. The financial benefits are way down the list and, it would seem, the work involved in converting just one person is worth standing in minus three Celsius for six hours.

“Weel, I s’pose I’d better try it then, seein yiv geen it a’ that trouble,” said the man. He turned towards me aware that I had been listening. “Aye lassie, it’s nae dear fin he pit’s it like at.”

This was a compliment by any other standards, a backhanded one, well hidden in a typical Aberdeenshire guise. Steve turned to me and smiled. “It's nae a service ye wid get at your local supermarket,” he commented.  I had to agree. 

Deer Diary, pt. 2

by Lesley Gillespie

Part 2 - Meat is Murder

Morrissey is a vegetarian. I am not. It was 1985 and I loved The Smiths and I loved politics. I had never thought of food as politics but at the impressionable age of 19 the Meat is Murder album was responsible for my first moral dilemma regarding food. It still rages in my head today. Should another living thing be killed in order for us to eat and enjoy? That and any potential animal cruelty. 

Steve was already setting up the practice range. It occurred to me that this was a part of the food chain that most people never saw or perhaps did not want to see, the hidden truths about how our food gets onto our plate. In an ideal world shouldn’t all meat eaters have the opportunity to kill, cook and then eat their meat? Perhaps then fewer people would want to eat meat and the environmental impact on the planet would resolve itself. My thoughts were interrupted.

“Gralloching!” I said. “Beg your pardon?”

“This is the bit ye micht get a little squeamish aboot.” 

Steve went on to describe how gralloching (Scottish terminology) was the process in which the insides of the deer are removed. The only animal I had eviscerated (English terminology) was a hare and ‘squeamish’ hit the nail on the head. I had never killed an animal before, but now I had the opportunity to experience something that sport tourists paid the local estate hundreds of pounds to do. 

Women, Steve assured me, were much better than men at the first kill and it was apparently an ideal day for it. The best window for the shoot I was told was during a full moon on the rise and this golden period, the last hour of sunlight, stirs the animals into more activity. They are peckish; it’s cooler and they are easier to spot. And to kill.  

“A deer stalker for a deer stalker,” announced Steve as he plunked the hat on my head. Tip-toeing as quietly as I could, I shadowed Steve deep into Huntly estate past the point of no return. The deer spotted, the gun set, the bullet loaded. I just had to pull the trigger.  If I was going to do it, I wanted it to be right. I was shaking in the incredibly loud silence. Time stood still. So did the deer. 

Steve sensed the time lapse. “Look for the elbow,” he whispered. It was important to shoot in the correct place. Bang! A shudder rang through my body. Instantly, the deer dropped. The ringing in my ears masked the noise from the flapping of escaping birds' wings. As we approached the deer, I was overwhelmed, crying, not sure of what I had done. I touched its beautiful face searching for life but wanting death. It had been a good clean shot. 

Steve set to work, a master craftsman. Gralloched – it could only be a Scottish word, perfect in meaning, describing exactly what it says, part of a language specific to culture, place and the traditions of deer hunting. It felt like an out of body experience until the time-honoured ceremony of being ‘blooded’ was performed on my face. Steve dipped his fingers in the red sticky liquid and stroked my face with unexpected intimacy, cementing the love affair. We walked back in silence, our hind in the bag.

Is meat murder? Well, yes, of course it is. But killing an animal in the wild where it has lived as nature intended, with no idea that a shot is coming, is a world away from how cows are lined up in a slaughter house. True vegetarian diets may be better for the environment and, arguably, our health but people are never going to stop wanting to eat meat. It is the omnivore's dilemma, and especially so when something tastes delicious. I had murdered and it has stayed with me as one of the most profound experiences of my life, but in order to salve my conscience I remind myself that deer need to be culled in order to reduce the destruction they can wreak on the countryside. Our duty is perhaps then to give greater respect for the animals we do kill for our food, by utilising the whole animal and treating them accordingly. To those, like Steve, who are the ones entrusted to provide our food, we must recognise and value their traditions, expertise and way of life considerably more than we currently do.

I loaded the car with my cheeks and enough roe deer saddles to feed 50 people. Taking care to lay the meat down as you would a baby down to sleep, I mused over how much I had learned in the past few hours. 

“See you at the supper; I’m sure you will do my deer justice,” Steve said.  As I passed by the Tin Hut on my long journey home I knew that this was going to be a very special feast. It was to be a celebration of local food, eaten by its inhabitants and joined by the growers and hunters who provided the fare. It was an opportunity to bring back tradition and the history of sharing the harvest, eating the seasons. As for me, well, I was given the privilege and honour of cooking with the best larder in the world and best of all I had a new-found love – deer.

Part 3 - Is Deer too Dear?, follows

Deer Diary, pt. 1

This three-part blog by Lesley Gillespie, a MSc Gastronomy student in 2014-15, follows her investigations into venison, which became the main focus of her Masters dissertation. She begins with her first encounters of deer stalker Steve Wright, the sole procurer, producer and seller for Mortlach Game – or, as Lesley describes him, ‘a one man food chain’.

Part 1 - In Hind Sight Maybe Not Such a Good Ideer

I felt as though I had stepped back in time. I had not seen any vehicles or people for what seemed an eternity. I was somewhere deep in rural Aberdeenshire, somewhere near Gartly. According to my car’s mileometer I was about to pass the venue where, as guest chef, I was due to host the annual Huntly Hairst Tin Hut Supper. Stopping the car I peered at the letters of the rusting sign in disbelief. I was already beginning to regret it – it was literally a tin hut. Fifty covers in the back of beyond in a makeshift kitchen. Dear o deer what had I done?

The scene was of utter carnage. I arrived just as Steve was about to skin a deer. Known as ‘lardering’, this was the stage in processing where carcasses that had been hung for up to 28 days were butchered.

“Jist turning them into something recognisable for the consumer,” he roared over in his broad Doric accent, although a whisper would have sufficed in the eerie stillness of the late afternoon. The deer’s sisters hung high on hooks on death row, heads were already piled up in a big plastic buckets waiting for my boning knife. Several rabbits and pigeons made up the sombre party of venison, a word traditionally used for any hunted wild game but now solely used to describe deer meat, waiting to be skinned. 

I had to admit the scene was a little disturbing, creepy even, as Steve sharpened his knife like a character in a blood-lust horror movie. Happy to butcher any animal and make ready for the kitchen stove, I have only ever baulked at cutting off a pigs nose – it was just such a personal act. Was carving cheeks any different to slicing a snout? 

The theme for my tin-hut menu was ‘wild food’, ideally sourced within 10 miles of Huntly and preferably from small-scale producers selling at the local farmers' market. I had already bagged the best tatties I had tasted in years, a heritage Mayan Gold variety from the organic farm a mile up the road but the best venison, I was assured, roamed the Huntly Estate in the form of the female roe deer. Her prized loins were already vac-packed waiting to be picked up but cheeks for the accompanying ‘cheeky’ pies were a new butchery challenge even for Steve. Face to face, would I be able slice through such a graceful looking mammal? 

What motivated me to overcome any reservations in hauling head after head onto the block was nothing to do with the current cheffy trend where the whole animal is presented in a form which represents, and is eaten, head to tail. It was pure ambition, the chef’s quest to be innovative, to produce something on a plate that was unique, notwithstanding the resulting kudos from peer appreciation. Seven heads later, I was enraptured by Steve’s passion and knowledge of deer, his connection to the land and habitat which he shared with his beloved beasts. My precious cheeks, like heart shaped jewels, were carefully wrapped and boxed. It was the start of a love affair but there was something to follow that would rock me to the core. Steve announced, “Wid ye like ti ging an’ shoot a puckle”? 

Part 2 - Meat is Murder, follows.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Traitor! Or Saviour?

MSc Gastronomy graduate and real bread fan Scott Fraser finds his loyalties divided in the supermarket aisle

When Dundee Uniteds star midfielder Gary Mackay-Steven left for Celtic at the start of the year, the Tangerines fans were outraged. A player they had cheered every Saturday for four years had deserted them for Scotlands biggest and most powerful team. You can understand their feeling of rejection.

Wandering round Waitrose the other day I felt similar feelings: abandonment, sadness, even a bit of anger. The difference was that I was looking at a loaf of bread.

An overreaction? Perhaps, but let me explain.

This loaf of bread had a rich brown crust, deep sourdough flavour and a springy texture that only a bread made with care can have. It has a name, The Covenanter’, and more importantly to me it was baked in the artisan Edinburgh bakery, Andante. Opened in 2010 at the foot of Morningside Road, its here that Jon Wood and his team bake some of the finest bread in the city.

Jon Wood at Bakery Andante
(pic. courtesy Phil's Food World)
We visited the bakery during the Gastronomy course and it was then that Jon became a personal hero for me. His previous career was in marketing, but he decided to pack it all in and turn his passion for baking into a business. I imagine that chucking it all in to pursue our interests is something we have all thought about. I often dream of setting up a small bakery in the hills of Central France with just the bread dough and its fickle moods to occupy me. I, however, have never had the courage to pursue my urges. Jon has.

So when I saw his bread in a supermarket, albeit one of the better ones, those feelings rose up in me like bread springing in a hot oven. Why has my champion, the local, sustainable, artisan baker, doing it for love and the feel of the dough in his hands, basically done the food equivalent of signing for Celtic? What had happened to the romance of it all?

And that is the crust of it. Romance. Bakery Andante is a business and needs to survive. Dont get me wrong, romance is a fundamental part of it, but without sales there is no business. A small bakery has found an outlet for his bread. Is that a bad thing? Of course it isnt. In fact its fantastic. A small local supplier with access to such an effective market place is a huge boost to their artisan food production. More sales mean that the bakery has a chance to thrive and continue to produce exceptional bread. Just look at the Parisian Boulangier, Lionel Poilane. All credit to Jon and his bakers, as the bread is as good as I have had from his shop and now I can park the car for free when I buy it.

pic: Phil's Food World
In fact, if we accept that supermarkets are not going to disappear, could this be a new way for them to interact with local suppliers and give small producers the framework and infrastructure to reach consumers? As long as suppliers get a good deal, food miles could be reduced, local businesses could be supported and an accessible marketcould be at the heart of the shopping street.

Now, I don't know how many hoops Bakery Andante had to jump through to get listed. A lot, I imagine – I currently work supplying supermarkets and there are many, many hoops. I also don't know what sort of deal they are getting from them (I hope with Jons corporate knowledge he has negotiated a fair one). But, on the face of things, it seems like a supermarket is giving its role as a market more prominence than the super bit.

Gary Mackay-Steven has thrived at Celtic. He has had a chance to play against some of the best opposition in Europe, an opportunity he would not have had at Dundee United. In addition, he now plays for Scottish national team which is stronger for his experience. And the better the national team the more interest in the game as a whole. Perhaps I need to swallow my surprise and appreciate the wider benefit of better bread in supermarkets.

Scott Fraser works as a Development Chef for a fish company. Sponsored by his employer, he studied for the MSc Gastronomy part-time over two years, graduating in 2015.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

All Shapes of Milk: Scots Gastronomy Students at Cheese 2015

by Benedetta Salsi

Slow Cheese is a biennial event held in Bra, a small town in the Piedmont region of Italy that’s the cradle of the international Slow Food movement. For four days the world’s best cheeses are celebrated while their makers gather to talk about culture, ancient knowledge, human skills, and to remind us that we are losing animal breeds, pastures, herders, and our rights to choose what to eat.

Mighty, and mite-y cheeses
Gastronomists are not for food waste, but neither for time waste, and as soon as the group of QMU students arrived in Bra for Cheese 2015, a special cheesemonger was waiting for them. Fiorenzo Giolito is the third generation of his family to work in the cheese trade. He selects all the cheese sold in multinational food emporium Eataly, dedicating his time to locating the finest examples of cheese produced in Piedmont and Italy and then using his expertise to age them to perfection. With small producers, Giolito tries to create a relationship of trust and collaboration, but above all he pays respect to their vital role in a disappearing art and to the traditions of farmer, pasture and artist.

Pollenzo, home of UniSG and the Banca del Vino
The University of Gastronomic Sciences (UniSG), founded in 2004 by Slow Food, is the first education centre in the world entirely dedicated to gastronomy, and one where a new professional figure – the gastronome – is formed. Located close to Bra at Pollenzo, QMU’s students were able to tour the campus as well as the linked Banca del Vino (Wine Bank), a sanctuary where the best wines of Italy are collected and preserved. Banca del Vino wants to be a caveau to shield the heritage and the history of Italian wine by making it available for future generations. Almost 300 Italian producers have deposited a part of their best wine production so far.

Drinking in the views of Barolo country

Next, a proper Piedmontese lunch overlooking the Langhe landscape, with dishes such as carne cruda, Faraona’s salad, ravioli del plin and tajarin with ragù sauce. Showcasing just one of the hundreds of Italian local cuisines, it's a display of the care and respect for raw ingredients and traditions that are essential requirements of a tasty experience. The same values were on show elsewhere in the nearby hills, with a visit to a hazelnut producer, Papa dei Boschi, offering an opportunity to understand how a specific soil and place, the right technology, care and passion, and human knowledge are all closely linked in order to create even a single high quality, small and round hazelnut of Piedmont.

The international language of curdish
Arriving at the Cheese festival itself, our gastronauts jumped from stand to stand, from cheese to cheese, asking, smelling, and tasting. It was hard not to notice them with a super new tote bag or, in some cases, a colourful kilt. QMU’s students took seriously their task of understanding cheese and the absence of Scottish participation, so after almost 10 hours spent among rennet’s products, they marched toward Local Bra (a new UniSG project to promote the POD, the Petit Organized Distribution) in order to meet Cristiano De Riccardis, UniSG professor, official cheese taster, and creator of the first international cheese tasting vocabulary.

Snapping, sniffing and sampling: with Professor De Riccardis

Among the QMU delegation was Sarah Haworth, a cheesemaker from Cream o’Galloway in the south of Scotland, who gamely offered an example of her hard work to be evaluated by such an expert. It was a mystical sensorial experience, a special opportunity to learn how to taste cheeses in the proper way, completed by the unexpected visit of Carlin Petrini (Slow Food founder) to greet the QMU delegation and wish them good luck for the future of Scottish gastronomy.

Skirting the cheese tents
There was plenty more to discover around the festival: the International and Italian Markets, Slow Food Presidia, Biodiversity House, the Great Hall of Cheese. Several debates were organised during the event, where experts and the public shared opinions about issues such as 'Cheese and Soil', connecting the living material under our feet to the variety to the quality of grasses, and the specific variety and quality of milk that makes a cheese unique. 

Making good cheese takes more than just pastures and cheesemaking skills; it
The International Cheese Market
also demands respect for the health of the soil. And therefore making good, clean and fair food requires the care that José uses for his hazelnuts, the respect that Giolito wants to be the basis of his relationship with cheesemakers, the savoir-faire of Italian wine shielded in Banca del Vino, and certainly the willpower of learning and teaching what gastronomy is, which permitted the birth of UniSG, Slow Food, as well as the first gastronomy masters course in the UK: QMU Gastronomy.

Italian national Benedetta Salsi is a student at UniSG and currently working in Scotland as an intern with the MSc Gastronomy course at Queen Margaret University. 
The QMU students' field trip to Cheese 2015 was made possible by the generous donation of QMU alumna Elizabeth Salvesen.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Just one small step

Pete Brown (right), during a MSc Gastronomy field trip

by Pete Brown, MSc (Gastronomy)

You might know about the theory of the aggregation of marginal gains. In short, while theres unlikely to be one, game-changing solution to any problem, lots of small actions can change the world. It’s with that in mind that I’m thinking about a question put to me recently. Aware of my brand-new MSc in Gastronomy from Queen Margaret University, a friend asks me, ‘How will you be repaying the taxpayer for your year-long indulgence in all things food related?’

I think he was being light-hearted. I took it that what I was being asked about what I have learned, how it has changed me and how it will improve the world. They’re all fair questions.

Before I started the MSc I’d been involved in the food and drink industry, owning and running a food certification business, operating initially in Scotland, then the rest of the UK and other parts of the world. After 20 years I sold the business and enjoyed taking a step back to think about food and drink through academic eyes. During my studies I kept a few business interests ticking over but, post-study, I’m getting involved again. I’m a Director of a publishing business — The List — where we aim to inform and inspire readers, through our food and drink guides, to try out tasty, interesting local food and food outlets. I’m also involved in food advisory work, for example at the moment advising one organisation about food authenticity — why and how they can enhance and protect their brand.

So am I not just going back to where I was? My step out into academia could be seen as a bit of an indulgent diversion, but I’m convinced that studying Gastronomy has given me fresh eyes. I didn’t need to be convinced but I’m even more sure than I was before completing the course that our food culture has to change — particularly for reasons of our health and our planet’s wellbeing. I’d also love to see a shift in food sovereignty — smaller food producers and consumers wrestling a bit more control over the food system out of the hands of massive business.

I can see no simple or short term solutions to our food culture’s problems but, when I think about it, it took 20 years and thousands of steps for me to fully establish my small food certification business. I’ve learned, as I studied, that in these same 20 years, international gastronomy research expanded exponentially, engaging hundreds of new academics, to become a credible body of work deserving more focused study. Twenty years, therefore, sounds like a reasonable amount of time to hope to make an impact — whether it’s on a local or a world scale.

So back to the theory of marginal gains. It seems to me possible that if we all make lots of better small decisions they can aggregate together to make some big changes and improvements to what we eat and how it affects the world. Taking a step back, getting yourself informed, looking out for what’s going on around you and connecting with people who are thinking about some of the same important issues — it does all help. Hopefully my own small steps in the next 20 years will help repay my year of — so-called — indulgence.

Pete Brown graduated as a MSc in Gastronomy in July 2015. Among other work he has taken on since then he has been providing consultancy to a public body within the Scottish Government dealing with the food and drink industry.

Friday, July 24, 2015

What next for the UK's first Gastronomists?

The recent 2015 QMU graduation ceremony at the Usher Hall included an exciting first for the UK with pioneering students graduating with an MSc in Gastronomy – a real cause for celebration!

The MSc Gastronomy programme is growing from strength to strength as it enters its 3rd year. But what exactly is a Gastronomist, and what can they do with their degree?

After studying the human relationship to food through history, gaining insight into the science of production, considering how we think about what we eat and investigating the political complexities of our current food system, Gastronomists are able to engagingly communicate on a wide range of food issues, with a view to educate, advocate and innovate in the world of food. Many of our students are going into realms such as food education, consultancy, community food work, product development, communications and journalism, as well as setting up their own innovative food businesses. We'll be bringing you interviews and more examples of what our students get up to, soon. 

Some recent student activity has included:

Hive and Still, a buzzing gathering at the Royal Botanic Gardens in May, saw a gastronomical showcase of Scottish honey to raise awareness of the importance of honey for environment, flavour, culture and health. Via tastings, pollination games and more, guests at the Botanics learned the essential role that honey has played throughout Scottish history, and tasted the extraordinary range of flavours offered us by this national treasure. With honey inspired drinks and bites, our Gastronomists engaged the crowds in an gustatory appreciation of the Scottish landscape, with guests sharing their honey themed stories and memories. Fun with a worthy cause; guests came away understanding the value of supporting Scottish beekeepers, rather than settling for cheap multi-country blends. To read more and see some pretty silly outfits, click here:

Food Assembly: two of our current students have launched the first Scottish branch of the award winning Food Assembly - an innovative way of shopping locally online. The Food Assembly exists all around Europe as a great way to support local producers. Choose your products online, and pick them up once a week from a central, social location where you can meet the producer and other folk like yourself who care about food. The Edinburgh Food Assembly will soon be in Jeremiah’s Taproom on Leith Walk, and was featured on a recent episode of the BBC Radio 4 Food Programme alongside some other fantastic local initiatives trying to make changes. Find out more and sign up here:

And last, but not least, we were also present at the extraordinary inaugural Edinburgh Cake Fest. Local professional and amateur bakers gathered in the Botanics to create a 70 square metre edible map of the Edinburgh, with the city’s major landmarks represented by appetising constructions of sugary confection. Our team created a version of the Inverleith Allotments, with real vegetables being worked into the sponge . Check it out here:

Want to learn more and start changing our local foodscape? We have FULLY FUNDED places to study Gastronomy.

Questions? Contact, or 
Applications should be submitted by 10th August, 2015. Final round of interviews on August 20th.