Not a recipe as such, but a bit about some of our amazing produce & wolves! Wolves?Read on, it will make sense, I promise
Having been lucky enough to live in Italy for three years, just outside Bella Napoli, the home of the Margherita pizza, we’ve developed a love of great pizza. I have spent a great deal of time pottering in the kitchen, trying and testing various pizza base recipes, with varying degrees of success in an attempting to recreate a classic at home that any Italian would be proud of.
It was not really until I dove into the whole sour dough thing and invested in an Uuni portable pizza oven, that we really nailed it. My family are honest critiques, so I trust them that the Nicolson Pizza is pretty damn good.
So, we have two amazing sons, two Italian rescue dogs and our pet sour dough starter! Born over a year ago of a simple coupling of flour and water, we are proud parents of a living, breathing jar of miracle magic. I’m hoping it will be passed down through generations of Nicolson’s. It will be my legacy.
She, (the starter) require’s feeding and nurturing. Each time I feed her I have to discard a little, or give it away. I traded a couple of hundred grams once with The Glen Lyon Coffee Roasters in Aberfeldy, in return for a bag of freshly roasted coffee bean’s. I hope they’ve kept it going and made some great pizza. I certainly enjoyed their coffee.
So, anyway, onto the pizza. I decided that I wanted to have a pizza afternoon and use only Scottish ingredient’s bought locally.
We popped into a great shop in North Berwick called the Why Not? It’s one shop with over twenty individual retailer’s under the one roof. It’s a brilliant opportunity for small producers to show case their hard work and for customers to purchase and enjoy real food.
I came out of Why Not? with a bag of bread flour from Mungoswell’s Malt & Milling, a family run farm and mill in East Lothian; a hunk of tangy extra mature Mull Cheddar and a generous piece of organic salami from Peelham Farm in Berwickshire. Peelham Farm sells it own organic meat, and charcuterie made from their own organic free range pig’s. No nasty nitrates and preserved with simple sea salt.
The following day we headed off to Loch Lomond with our caravan for a very blustery weekend, thanks to Storm Ciara. So we hunted out a farm shop that we had never been to before and were so glad that we did. Auchentullic Farm Shop, on the west banks of Loch Lomond is a treasure trove of wonderful Scottish produce.Fifth generation farmers, they sell milk in the shop from their Fresian dairy herd and their own highland beef. They are also passionate about supporting other producers from all over Scotland, selling vegetables, dairy products, wine, beer, honey and meat, shortbread and ice-cream. There was even a cosy log burner, flames dancing, chairs covered in sheep skins from Skye Skin’s, pulled up close and looking very inviting.
I get very excited in this kind of shop and a bit carried away too if I’m not careful.
We bought some butter, yoghurt and crowdie, supplied by Katy Rodgers Knockraich Farm, somewhere else that I would love to visit. Crowdie is a soft, fresh Scottish cheese, said to have been introduced to Scotland by the Vikings in the eight century. I thought it might work well on the pizzas, along side the Mull cheddar that we bought in North Berwick.
What else did we buy? Oh yes, Orkney black pudding. Now, I’m not a black pudding fan, nor of haggis, and yet they both always smell so good. I feel traitorous saying that out loud, I think that I’m just a bit squeamish. I can manage a little taste and it’s so good, that’s the ridiculous thing. I’m a butcher’s daughter, maybe Saturday’s helping my parent’s in their shop put me off a bit. Dad used to boil lumps of black pudding in the kettle for his lunch, resourceful of him I suppose. But then Mum would wonder why her cup of tea had a layer of grease floating on the surface!
I digress, the black pudding would work well crumbled on pizza. Another meaty topping we bought was Venison Salami.
I feel as though I should apologise for the amount of meat I’m using. Just for the record though, our stance on meat. Our principles lye very firmly in balance, animal welfare and sustainability. Balance as in a balanced diet with not too much of any one food, except for cake maybe . We eat good quality meat only, making a little go a long way and not wasting a single oz. As well as fresh fish we love a vegetarian meal once or twice a week too. Animal welfare is hugely important to us. I’d rather make a vege curry than buy meat that is not of a high welfare standard. Sustainability is all of the above really , meat from small producers that has been reared with great respect and care for the animal and the environment and food miles are minimal.
Anyway, a slight tangent again, but this is where venison makes so much sense, and where the wolves come in.
Having lost all of it’s apex predators lynx, bears and wolves, Scotland is flush with red deer. Their only predator remaining is us, man. On the Isle of Jura for example, red deer out number humans by thirty to one. What is the problem with this? Well, along side sheep and our need for timber and land for cultivation, over the centuries Scotland’s landscape has been changed dramatically. With nothing to keep the deer from moving, and nothing keeping the population in check for a balanced eco system, the deer are merrily munching away at delicate tree saplings and native shrubs that in turn would, if allowed to flourish, support a whole host of insect, reptile, bird and mammal life.
At the moment, there is an annual cull of around 12% of the red deer population. In order for the eco system to be allowed to regenerate it is said that this figure needs to be more in the region of 80%.
Venison is low in fat, high in protein, it’s carbon foot print is negligible and there’s lot’s of it!
There is a growing number of conservationists who would love to rewild ares of Scotland. Part of this plan would mean the reintroduction of the grey wolf. One such notable advocate for this controversial scheme is Paul Lister owner of the Alladale Estate
So that’s where the wolves could come in. It’s a highly controversial subject and I can totally understand people’s reticence, particularly that of farmer’s with live stock to care for. In the mean time, I’ll do my bit and buy some venison salami for our pizza.
We also bought a couple of bottles of IPA from the Loch Ness Brewery, Hoppy Ness, the greatest gift that I possess.
So, back to the caravan. I had made my sour dough yesterday and let it prove nice and slowly in the fridge over night. Allowing the natural yeast and flavour to develop. There’s no rushing a Nicolson pizza. In fact, whilst the dough was coming to room temperature, we went for a little wander along the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond.
Back from our walk and very hungry, Donald lights the pizza oven giving it plenty of time for the stone to get nice and hot. And poured a beer.
I assembled all of our beautiful ingredients, swigged some beer and got our beautiful hand forged pizza cutter at the ready.
The base came out perfect, not too soft and not too hard but just right. The Orkney black pudding went all crispy, even I had to admit that it was pretty darned good and the crowdie melted and tinged with brown added an unctuous creamyness.
I love using our beautiful hand forged pizza cutter, or mezzalunar, literally translating as half moon. Like our pizzas themselves, it’s been lovingly made using a time honoured tradition out of recycled materials.
It will last our life time and for generations to follow too. You never know, our great, great, great grand children might be making bread and pizza with my sour dough starter and slicing their pizzas with Great Great Great Grandma Nicolsons mezzalunar.
So, I hope that you feel inspired and excited to taste some of Scotland’s incredible food. I’d love to know your thoughts on the reintroduction of wolves to the Scottish Highlands, if you have an opinion on the subject. I’d also be interested to hear where you are coming from in terms of eating meat, veganism or vegetarianism.
Next week I am planning to take you on a road trip to the Isle of Skye, so I hope that you will join me for that.
Warm Wishes & Happy Valentine’s Day to you & your loved ones