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February 11, 2019

Last week, the 5pm dining blog was invited to Fred Berkmiller's l'escargot blanc restaurant for a rather special dinner.

It was the first 2019 Scottish Larder evening from the French chef. Designed to showcase the best Scottish produce, the events highlight Fred's passion for seeking out small scale breeders and producers who share his enthusiasm for authentic ingredients.

The chef has a long history of sourcing interesting Scottish products, whether they be snails from Barras, Highland Wagyu, Orkney scallops or duck from Gartmorn Farm by Alloa.

Over the last couple of years, Fred has also been growing his own leaves and herbs at Newton Walled Garden, just outside Edinburgh. We've blogged about it a couple of times.


'Scotland has a huge variety of livestock, fish, seafood and so on,' says Fred. 'We have an incredibly rich larder and I am privileged to be able to make a direct link between the producer and the food we serve on our plates. I like produce which has history and connections to the land where it is raised or grown. I like using produce which has authentic character.'

Last week's menu was based around Hebridean hogget raised on the edge of the Ochil Hills and native kye, or cattle, from Shetland.

Jack and Morna Cuthbert of Ardoch talked us through their Hebridean hogget. A small black sheep that sports anything up to eight horns, the breed is thought to have come to Scotland with the Vikings.

Hogget refers to meat which is between and one and two years old. After two years, the meat is called mutton.

Over the centuries, Scotland's flocks of slow-maturing black sheep were gradually replaced by breeds of larger white sheep which matured more quickly and yielded more meat.

Danger of extinction

Cailettes made with Hebridean hogget reared by the Cuthbert family.

Cailettes made with Hebridean hogget reared by the Cuthbert family.

By 1973 the Rare Breed Survival Trust identified that the Hebridean was in danger of extinction with only 300 animals spread over 40 flocks.

Of course, the best way to conserve a rare breed is to eat it and, along with other farmers, the Cuthberts have been slowly but surely increasing the numbers of Hebridean sheep and selling their meat.

Partially thanks to their efforts, the breed is no longer in danger of dying out and there are now approximately 45,000 of them.

Happily for conservation purposes, the sheep are quite content to graze on different pastures. The Cuthberts' sheep graze on everything from bog moss to silver birch and this diversity gives the meat a rich, deep flavour.

We ate them as caillettes, a type of faggot, with mogettes and haricots beans, lamb jus and winter purslane from Newton Garden.

Native Shetland kye

It was Jacob Eunson's father who first started rearing native breeds on their Uradale Farm on Shetland.

Like the Cuthberts' sheep, the Native Shetland cattle were once endangered but the Eunson family have played a large part in bringing Native Shetland kye back from the brink.

In the Seventies, there were fewer than 30 on Shetland. Now there are 250 on Shetland with a further 2000 on mainland Scotland an estimated 7000 in Australia.

Unique flavour

Roast Native Shetland beef.

Roast Native Shetland beef.

Smaller than modern commercial breeds of cattle, the Eunson's kye range far and wide eating a diet of heather, grass and winter silage.

It gives them a unique flavour and Uradale Farm has built up a market for their beef. 'Forgotten tastes and ancient traits are what we specialise in' says the Eunson's website.

Jakub Eunson of Uradale puts it another way: 'Our kye are from the past but now they have a place in the future'.

At Fred's, we ate roast Native Shetland kye with red and white cabbage from Newton Garden and Shetland black potatoes.

The first Scottish Larder night sold out very quickly with another 40 would-be customers on the waiting list.

Subsequent Scottish Larder nights at l'escargot blanc are likely to be just as popular. Lots of people share Fred's appetite  for authentic flavours and products which have a sense of place and history.

We'll bring you news of the next Scottish Larder as we get it.