Crowdie in Edinburgh
Crowdie: a rustic, Scottish, soft, cow’s milk cheese.
How had I never heard of this before? Up until this point I had felt smug about my well-travelled palate. I’ve tried many weird and wonderful foods over my years of globetrotting: roast guinea pig (a bit like duck with long toenails); putrified shark meat (its chewy texture as unforgiving as its ammoniac stench); and meal-worm bolognese, which was actually pleasantly nutty. But here I was, back in the country in which I was born and bred, unaware of this humble cheese made right here in Bonnie Scotland.
Overcoming my embarrassment as a Scot having to ask an English waiter at our local Edinburgh gastropub to explain what crowdie was, I felt obliged to order the crowdie salad in spite of my appetite hankering over something more brunchy. Chunks of bleeding beetroot and charred pumpkin sat brightly among beige pearls of barley, and the crowdie, warmed, silkily coated the peppery arugula. Akin to soft goat’s cheese in texture—but less “farmy” in flavor—its creaminess was slightly sour, almost lemony.
This cheese has some pretty cool history. It is known to have fed revellers at traditional Scottish ceilidh celebrations, lining their stomachs along with oatcakes in preparation for the onslaught of whisky drinking. Its origins can be traced back to the Viking settlements in the ninth century, the tradition carried forward by Scottish Highlanders to this day.
Essentially a byproduct of butter-making, the process begins by skimming the cream from fresh milk and heating the remaining liquid until it curdles—historically, either in the sun or by the fire—before straining, separating the curds from the whey. Salt is added to the curds before being molded into a log shape and sometimes rolled in chewy pinhead oats and spicy crushed black pepper, known as “black crowdie.”
It becomes clear the more people I speak to that I am not the only one who had never heard of it. In spite of its availability, we in the south of Scotland are still reaching for the mass-produced tubs of soft cheeses, lining the pockets of food giants, as our local cheese sits on the shelves, invisible, undiscovered and as yet, unwanted. Containing only cows’ milk and salt, I can’t help but think this must be a superior product to consume than everyone’s favorite cream cheese?
It may not be as exotic as our haggis or black pudding, or as (in)famous as the deep-fried Mars Bar, but crowdie still merits a place in our homes and on our menus. A back-to-basics, local product, versatile in its simplicity; I am a convert.