What's so special about the cheesemakers? Working to mutual benefit has given the small producer distribution deals he once could only dream of and provided one large manufacturer with a wide range of products. Claire O'Brien reports The cool Scottish climate is suited to cheese-making. Before milk could be easily transported, most crofters and farmers made their own cheese for local consumption, but with better roads and refrigerated transport the job of making cheese devolved to those who could make it pay. There are about two dozen cheesemakers scattered across Scotland, from the large industrial creameries, such as McLellands in Glasgow, down to the small artisan cheesemakers tucked away in the Highlands and Islands. McLellands is the leading Scottish supplier of branded cheddar, marketing such well known names as Scottish Pride and Seriously Strong. "The company is involved in actively developing the brands, especially the Seriously Strong brand, with a major ad campaign," says supply chain manager Brian Skeffington. But producing cheddar isn't all McLellands does. It also handles the marketing and distribution for some of the country's smaller producers, like the Inverloch Cheese Co of Campeltown, Kintyre and Highland Fine Cheeses of Tain, Rosshire, whose artisan cheesemaker Ruaraidh Stone produces local specialities such as Crowdie, Caboc Gruth Dhu and Hramsa. This arrangement gives both large and small companies the best of both worlds - providing the larger ones with a more varied product portfolio and giving the smaller ones the kind of distribution deal they could otherwise only dream about. "We want to support small Scottish cheese manufacturers," explains Skeffington. "They produce a quality product, but don't have the time to go down to London for perhaps a half-hour meeting with a supermarket buyer, and they don't necessarily have the sales and marketing expertise to promote their own products nationally. So we can give them a passage into the multiple sector. It's partly national pride, partly because we like to promote the whole range of Scottish cheeses." True to its word, McLellands will be doing just that at the British Cheese Awards in Stow-on-the-Wold this September. The symbiotic relationship works so well that some of the big boys' profile invariably rubs off on the smaller outfits. "Many people who are familiar with this company believe it to be a large industrial one," laughs Inverloch's David Eaton, "but our vat can hold a maximum of 150 gallons against an industry standard of 2,000 gallons!" The Campbeltown based company employs only five full-timers to make its award-winning hard and soft cheeses, including Drumloch Guernsey cheddar, Inverloch Goatsmilk and its range of Taste of Gigha flavoured speciality cheeses ­ including waxed truckles flavoured with everything from garlic or pickle to claret or malt whisky. "Our dairy farm was on Gigha for 10 years," explains David Eaton, "but then three years ago we moved the whole operation to the mainland. Although farm and creamery are now geographically distinct, the process hasn't changed - we still use milk from our own livestock." One innovative addition to the Inverloch range is the Gigha Fruit, mature Scottish cheddar shaped, waxed and decorated to resemble apples, oranges and pears and exotically flavoured with liqueur and schnapps. Up in the remote north, the Orkney Cheese Company is going it alone ­ with the help of McLellands on the distribution side. The company was part of the Claymore Creamery farmers' co-op until March last year, when Express Dairies took a 51% stake and it "became much less concerned with cheesemaking", according to Orkney general manager Tim Deakin. Rather than going for a wide product range like the small artisans, Orkney makes just one cheese ­ Orkney Island Cheddar. "We've never considered diversifying into other types of cheese because we're limited by the milk we can get ­ and we can sell whatever we make," says Deakin. "We also have a low turnover of skilled staff who are used to making our cheddar". They use a dry stored curd method "which gives a consistent high-quality product", says Deakin. With such an assured market there's no need to diversify, although Orkney is to move into a new purpose-built factory in Kirkwall in November. "The local authority have bought it with European assistance, and we're leasing it back," explains Deakin. "It was designed around the equipment we're buying ­ it's not often a company gets the chance to design a building around the hardware!" {{Z SUPPLEMENTS }}