Easter traditionally sees the starting gun being fired on the festival season and this year is no different.
On Saturday, people can enjoy the inaugural Highland Haggis Festival at Spean Bridge in the heart of the Outdoor Capital of the UK – Fort William and Lochaber.
Billed as the first, family-focused festival to celebrate Scotland’s iconic national dish, it aims to showcase the versatility of haggis while also providing oodles of fun.
Flinging the haggis
Taking place mostly at the Spean Bridge Primary School, and sponsored by Macsween, the highlights of the festival include a haggis fling with the Lochaber Ladies Shinty Team; a haggis hunt with the Macsween mascot, Hamish the Haggis, plus an evening ceilidh in the Spean Bridge Community Hall with music from Skipinnish.
Naturally haggis-scoffing will be very much to the fore. As well as a children’s haggis recipe competition, Macsween’s resident chef, Colin Bussey, will be working with local chefs to rustle up haggis cookery demonstrations and tastings.
Having worked at The Savoy and Gleneagles, Chef Bussey will be a safe pair of hands as he prepares dishes such as vegetarian haggis empanadas, traditional haggis scotch eggs plus traditional haggis and lamb koftas – all made with Macsween products.
‘Colin’s job is to bring our products alive and make them into recipe suggestions that someone can try at home,’ explains James Macsween, the company’s co-director and the third generation of Macsweens to have made haggis in Edinburgh.
‘He is going to be showing consumers how convenient and versatile haggis is as an everyday dish. Yes, it’s great with neeps and tatties but it’s also fantastic on top of pizzas, or as a pepper-stuffing or in spaghetti Bolognaise. Our job as a business is to unleash the full potential of the haggis and show consumers that they can also use it to make cannelloni. Haggis is not just for Burns Night.’
Macsween on the march
These are busy times for the Macsween firm. When the company first opened their Loanhead HQ some nineteen years ago, they had twelve employees. They now have 75.
Of course, it is not just the workforce which is growing. The recent launch of their British beef and haggis burger was just the latest in a string of new products bearing the Macsween banner with more to come. It would not be a massive surprise were, say, Macsween sausages to make an appearance on the supermarket shelves at some point.
Having started making haggis in 1953, the Macsween brand is very well established and certainly strong enough to be expanded beyond haggis.
‘We want to continually extend our range of products and de-seasonalise haggis,’ says James. ‘Hopefully, products like the British beef and haggis burger will also introduce our haggis to people who might not have tried it. They might come to Macsween haggis through the back door, would be one way of looking at it.’
The Highland Haggis Festival is one way of spreading the news. Although there is only so far that James will go in terms of haggis promotion:
‘Sadly, I’m not competing in the haggis fling. I like my haggis on a plate,’ he says firmly.
The Highland Haggis Festival takes place at Spean Bridge Primary School on Saturday 11th April from 1pm to 5pm.
The ceilidh starts at 7pm, costs £15 and includes a traditional haggis supper.