Robin McKelvie, Award-winning Travel Writer & Broadcaster experiences our amazing Farm Produce - part of the Wild About Argyll Taste of Place Trails.

“You’re eating seasonal herbs, vegetables and fruit from our own garden right out there,” enthuses Steve, the creative chef at the five star guest house Carradales. “Our dishes are also blessed with produce from other parts of Argyll.” Gazing out the window that ultra-fresh produce is mirrored on my plate and I smile. You’ll smile a lot too on Argyll’s new Farm Produce Taste Trail.

This new Farm Produce Taste Trail is one of a quintet that wrap around Argyll and its sweep of hills and rich pastures, lochs and islands: a dramatic landscape forged by glaciers and volcanoes that today offers a rich and wild natural larder. The emphasis throughout this trail is on doing things properly, on authenticity and quality, whether it’s Argyll’s famed milk, meat or fish. The Farm Produce Taste Trail is brilliantly eclectic, soaring from jam producers and smokeries, through to well-stocked delis and plush hotels.

This eclecticism comes across in the likes of Isle of Mull Seaweed, who are riding the zeitgeist seaweed wave as chefs realise both the flavour and health benefits of this glorious natural resource. You can snaffle some for home use with their jars of locally-foraged seaweed chutney online – they’ll even take you out foraging if you arrange it in advance. Coffee may seem unusual on a Farm Produce Taste Trail, but it fits in perfectly with Argyll’s foodie story as the people behind Argyll Coffee Roasters are dedicated artisans with a serious passion for what they create. Their roastery is open to visitors by prior appointment with tours available and bags of coffee to buy. Look out too for their new coffee unit at Carry Farm, which opened in May 2021.

Something different for your taste buds

Black Rock Curries bring a dash of spice to Loch Awe meanwhile, with rich subcontinental flavour in their curries. Order ahead and swoop in to take your ready meal to enjoy back home – seriously handy for self-catering holidaymakers. They dip into Thailand too with a lip-smacking green curry. Slainte Sauces on the Isle of Lismore spice things up too with ‘deliciously tipsy drizzles’ guaranteed to give dinner parties, barbecues and picnics a lift with two measures of alcohol in every bottle. How about rum and salted caramel, or whisky with lemon and chilli?

Over on the Isle of Bute Fyne Futures set you up with a box full of fresh foodie goodies. You are doing your bit for the community by ordering as their myriad projects aim to bring social, employment, educational, environmental and health benefits for Bute. Across Lochgilpead way Annie’s Herb Kitchen is a family-run business creating seasoned salts and fruit herbal loose teas. The salt is created using fresh herbs and natural sea salt, slowly drying them together to magic up taste sensations like Steak Salt with thyme and Rosemary Salt with a touch of Lemon Verbena.

How about a scone and jam to go with a freshly brewed Argyll coffee? Again Argyll’s producers stand out. Sheila Whyte at Fyne Preserves lovingly crafts jams, chutneys and marmalades with a stirringly simple philosophy: “I have been making preserves since I can remember, accumulating recipes from family and friends,
new and ancient cookery books.” Kintyre Preserves’ don’t just use the term ‘homemade’ with their jams, marmalades and chutneys – they hail from a home kitchen. Over on Islay, Ma MacKinnon’s Marmalade is a small independent company conjuring up marmalades infused with the local whiskies, plus handmade jams and jellies, using locally homegrown fruits.

More of a savoury than a sweet tooth?

The Farm Produce Taste Trail delivers for you here thanks to the renowned quality of the local milk. David and Grace Eaton at Inverloch Cheese on Kintyre churn 25 years of experience into their cheeses. Their delicious Drumloch cheddar is sumptuously creamy with plenty of flavour – it’s washed with Campbeltown Loch brine and deserves its awards.

Out in the isles I’ve been visiting the sinewy Firth of Clyde Isle of Bute since I was a wee laddie. I always remember being amazed at how many cows, sheep and tractors we came across cycling around and it is this rich architectural backbone that provides the milk for the superb Isle of Bute Cheese, which is made today in Lochgilphead - the island flavour lives on through the island milk. Their Largie cheese is a stunner.
Meanwhile at Isle of Mull Cheese their landmark cheddar graces fine dining tables all over Scotland and no wonder as it’s simply one of the finest cheddars I’ve ever tasted. I’ve been a fan for years and always head back when I’m on Mull. This family-run dairy farm produces traditional farmhouse cheese – they have a seasonal cafe and farm shop too. Don’t miss their new self-guided farm tour – you can see them milk the cows and make the cheese. Their blue is top notch these days too.

At Highland Fold Ice Cream they hand-milk their Highland Cows to produce superb ice cream. A new visitor experience opened in 2021 with a converted stone-built steading on the farm. At the indoor and outdoor seats you can savour ice cream, puddings and picnics as you learn how the ice cream is made. Over on the Isle of Gigha, Emma Rennie Dennis and her brother Mark Rennie - and their 60 cows - produce fresh milk from the lush pastures on their farm. It’s put to good use at their Wee Isle Dairy. You’ll find their ice cream and milk products at village stores across Argyll.

If you fancy smoked meats to make up a platter with your cheese, or before your ice cream, you’re in luck on the Farm Produce Taste Trail. Argyll Smokery in Dunoon offer sublime smoked salmon and trout, plus more esoteric smoked shellfish – you have to try their smoked prawns. Inverawe Fisheries also produce a full range of fish smoked on site. We often stop off en route to Oban at their lovely café for some fishy treats and to stroll around their walking trails.

Macqueens of Rothesay meanwhile on the Isle of Bute are a superb butcher I can vouch for. They’ve been a family-run business since 1976 and the quality shone through in the gorgeous cooked breakfast we cooked up on Bute this spring that had the whole family raving about it. You’ve probably seen Winston Churchill Venison tempting you at festivals and events across Scotland. I didn’t realise for years they hailed from around Dunoon - their wild venison products are world-class. You can even go stalking with them on request.

Places to stay

To really immerse yourself in the Farm Produce Taste Trail why not stay over at a hotel on it? In Port Appin at the Pierhouse Hotel the sound provenance shines through. Tuck into beef and lamb from Achnacreebeag Farm in North Connel, with much of the rest of the produce sourced within Argyll. Indeed they point out the majority of their sourcing is from “within a 50 mile radius of the hotel”. At Colonsay House, on the eponymous Hebridean island, and their Garden Old Workshop Café, much of the produce hails from Argyll and the isles, including herbs, fruit and vegetables from their own glorious organic kitchen garden.

Local farms

We turn now to the essential fulcrum behind Argyll’s produce – farms. Beef does not come any better than straight from the farm. You can buy Auchnasaul Farm’s small herd Highland and Highland Cross 28 day-hung beef from Balvicar Stores or Oban Food Hub, for online shop and collect. The cattle are “handpicked by Euan”. You’ll find this world-class beef in local restaurants too. Fraser and Nikki Brown at Shellfield Farm put “quality, provenance, sustainability and traceability” at the heart of their business too. Treat yourself to their ready meals - available direct and from other local stockists - which are graced with their beef and lamb. Ardnacross Farm on Mull also breed their own beef, lamb and venison, with all animals slaughtered down on the island, cutting food miles. They’ve a shop too.

Farm shops and foodie stores

Moving on to the world of farm shops and foodie stores, just back from the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond, Auchentullich Farm Shop serve up homemade ice cream using their own milk and they also sell their own beef. Further west Tighnabruaich’s Wild Kitchen offers delights like their homemade and wild gems like bramble jam or tablet – they will deliver to your door and their wares pop up all around Cowal.

Further west along the banks of Loch Fyne the mix of fresh water from the River Fyne and the salty waters of the Atlantic create ideal conditions for cultivating shellfish. The Loch Fyne Oyster Bar and Deli stars at the head of the loch and is an Argyll foodie institution. The deli sells all manner of freshly caught fish and shellfish, with an impressive range of their own smoked products too. They also have a great range of local dairy products, biscuits and preserves, fruit and veg, bread and free range eggs. I reckon there are few better places in the world to put together a picnic with superb food and drink from all over Argyll to choose from.

Coming down to Kintyre now we come to the mercurial, award-winning Glenbarr Stores. The local sourcing is immaculate. We’re talking Highland beef from their own herd at North Beachmore Farm, lamb from Ifferdale on the east coast of Kintyre, eggs from Bellochantuy for the baking, smoked fish from Skipness Smokehouse and the renowned Isle of Gigha Halibut. The cheese is from Inverloch Cheese in Campbeltown, they stock Isle of Gigha milk/cream and Kintyre Preserves' locally produced jams, chutneys and marmalades.

Lean-To Farmshop at Ardentrive Farm is just glorious and a must if you’re in Oban as it’s just across the bay on the Isle of Kerrera. It spreads its bucolic tentacles across 180 acres with a herd of pedigree Highland Cattle the star attraction. Snare this superb beef at their wee shop alongside lamb, pork, handmade crafts and their very own pure Kerrera honey. Further south on the Isle of Easdale Puffer Foods tempt with gorgeous handmade produce that they make in this spectacular corner of Argyll in small batches - they’ve won awards for their preserves, cakes and confectionery and it’s easy to see why.

Over on the Isle of Mull Lochbuie Larder is a part of a small family-run farm and coffee/tea shop. The newer part of the business in 2021 is offering tastebud-tingling homemade ready meals – very handy íf you’re self-catering. At the Crofter’s Kitchen Rosie and Nigel Burgess have been working their croft on Mull since 1990. You’re encouraged here to learn about 'Very Slow Food'. Their shop stocks their seasonal vegetables, fruit, preserves, eggs, meat, as well as other organic and eco-products.

Argyll's natural larder

We end this trip as you often do in Argyll - surrounded by sweeping water and vaulting hill. I’m back in glorious Oban, a town awash with fine produce that bursts from its cafes, bars, restaurants and food shacks. I’m with John McNulty of Etive Restaurant: “Argyll’s natural larder has always impressed me. It’s a joy to bring the fruits of the sea and the land to the plate for diners to enjoy right in the heart of where the food was crafted.” After a feast brimming with Argyll smoked salmon and finished off with Isle of Mull Cheddar I’m still smiling, as you will be too if you hop on the Farm Produce Taste Trail.

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