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Fife: Joan Ransley takes the high road.

Fife: Joan Ransley takes the high road.
Steamie Bakehouse
Fife has rich grazing land, for cattle and sheep; a fantastic cool, moist climate for growing soft fruit and quaint fishing villages that land some of the best shellfish in the UK.

If you love good food, beautiful scenery and are happy to stay in the UK, a gourmet’s tour of the Kingdom of Fife might suit you very well. Fife is that bit of Scotland sandwiched between the Firth of Forth and the Firth of Tay. Edinburgh lies to the south, Dundee to the north and the famous university town of Saint Andrews lies on the coast between the two. The area has rich grazing land, for cattle and sheep; a fantastic cool, moist climate for growing soft fruit and quaint fishing villages that land some of the best shellfish in the UK. Fife has a vibrant, diverse food scene, boasting four farmers markets and a clutch of exciting farm shops cum restaurants. The Peat Inn, a Michelin starred restaurant is the jewel in the fine dining crown and, in contrast, the Pillars of Hercules, a zany 24 acre organic farm and restaurant on the Falkland Estate grows and serves, everyday, delicious, colourful, feel good food at affordable prices.
 
Here are my top places to eat and visit on a tour of Fife’s abundant larder.
 
1. The Cocoa Tree Café
Everyone in the area loves the Cocoa Tree, an artistic, tastefully appointed cafe and purveyor of fine chocolate from around the world. It is a refuge to all when a fierce wind is howling across the bay and the sun is hidden firmly behind a cloud. The best thing to try is a steaming, delicate liquor of rare chocolate, flavoured with allspice and orange or, perhaps hazelnut and praline and served in a delicate mug or vintage cup and saucer. Pretty, handcrafted chocolates are displayed in glass cases and can be bought there and then, or later online. Owner, Sophie Latinis, is on hand to serve and advise on all things chocolate and she allows customers to peruse her eclectic collection of books – all on the subject of chocolate - while waiting for orders to arrive.
The Cocoa Tree Café , 9 High Street, Pittenweem, Scotland KY10 2LA www.thecocoatreeshop.com
 
2. Saint Andrews Farmhouse Cheese Company
It is worth coming to Scotland just to sample some of it fine cheese. Scotland produces some of the best cheese in the UK including Grimbister a young, citrus flavoured cheese produced in the Orkey’s and Dunsyre, a mellow blue from South Lanarkshire. But when in Fife you should head for the St Andrew’s Farmhouse Cheese Shop. Jane Stewart’s complexion radiates buttery warmth when she talks of her Anster cheese winning a Gold medal in the 2011 International Cheese Awards. Jane learned to make Anster in 2008 with the help of a short course at Reading University and a retiring Welsh cheesemaker, Leon Downey. Anster is a delicious cow's milk cheese handmade on Jane’s farm just outside the small town of Anstruther. It has a crumbly-texture, creamy flavour and a beautiful rind rather like Wenslydale except that this is made from Scottish milk from a herd of Holstein Friesian cows fed on lush Fife pastures. You can buy the cheese and watch it being made at Falside Farm, Anstrusther, KY10 2RT www.standrewscheese.co.uk
 
3. The Pillars of Hercules Organic Farm Shop and Café
Thirty years ago when Bruce Bennett started farming this 25 acre plot of land organically everyone thought he was mad. Today he is admired for the determination and flare he has shown in creating an organic farm shop, brilliant box scheme and comfortable, cosy restaurant serving some of the best wholesome food I have tasted. I ate spiced carrot falafels served with pitta bread, cucumber pickle and yoghurt (£6.45), washed down with a dazzlingly colourful freshly pressed carrot and apple juice. A cutting garden on the farm supplies the prettiest long stemmed snowdrops and frilly petal tulips for the table. Poly tunnels give the vegetables a good start before being planted out in the well kept beds. There are few pests and the crops of salad vegetables look amazingly healthy and verdant for March. There is a farm trail, restaurant, interesting shop, places to stay (cute Bothy and campsite) and a lot to learn about how great food is grown. Bring your children here to learn how to love eating vegetables and fruit.
The Pillars of Hercules Farm, Strathmigio Road, Falkland, KY15 7AD www.pillars.co.uk
 
4. Puddledub Buffalo
‘What is so special about farming buffalo?’ I asked Steve Mitchell innocently on a tour of his farm. ‘Water buffalo breed well for about 20 years, need little human intervention, the cows self calf, and their meat is easy to understand as the cuts are the same as beef. They also love Scottish weather as there are plenty of muddy wallows to keep their skin clean’ he replies as a friendly buffalo licks his leg with a smooth wet tongue. We tour the farm and I meet a bull named 007 who is so curious he sticks his head inside our 4 by 4 to find out what is going on. ‘The only thing to worry about is their size. They are not aggressive at all’ Steve assures me as 007 gets closer still and tries to lick my face. Their meat is lean and goes down well at festivals where Steve sells buffalo burghers by the hundred. He sells buffalo as well as Auchtertool Angus steak and Jacob lamb (that’s the one with the lovely horns and chocolate brown spots) at famers markets, online and in his butcher’s shop. He runs farm tours which are fun and interesting as you can see the natural behaviour of these beautiful animals which have the freedom to roam as they do in the wild.
Puddledub Buffalo, Newcottoun, Clentrie Farm, Auchtertool KY3 5XG www.puddledubbuffalo.co.uk
 
5. Steamie Bakehouse
If you are staying in the Fife area you may want to order some artisan bread from Matthew Roberts who runs the Steamie Bakehouse from a gorgeous, wooden shed in his mother’s garden. He bakes up to 300 loaves a week in a three tiered wood fired oven. The bread is slow fermented with natural leaven which means it has masses of flavour, excellent texture and good keeping qualities. There are nine loaves to choose from including a bloomer, an Oatie, a Hearth Haggerty and a delicious glistening Fruit Loaf that can be ordered online 48 hours in advance and collected from one of four local depots. Prices are reasonable; £1.95 for a small and £2.95 for a large loaf, each taking between 9 and 12 hours to make.
www.steamiebakehouse.com
 
6. The Wee Restaurant
Craig Wood’s smart, friendly restaurant is a white washed, terraced cottage on the main street and huddles beneath the towering Fourth Road Bridge. It seats twenty four and is the place to eat if you want fine Scottish food served in modern way. Our lunch menu began with perfectly cooked sweet, tender scallops with a zig zag of red pepper sauce and homemade herb scented bread. Slices of tender, well hung venison were served on a delicious cassoulet of tender lentils with soft tasty potato gnocchi and a sprig of feathery chervil for our main course. For pudding a creamy, vanilla flavoured panna cotta with just the right amount of wobble was offset by carmine coloured, new season rhubarb diced finely. Prices are very reasonable for this quality of the food and cooking. Cost £25 - £35 per person.
The Wee Restaurant, Waterside, Chapel Place, North Queensferry, KY11 1JT www.theweerestaurant.co.uk
 
7. Cairnie’s Fruit Farm
Raspberries and loganberries grow so well in Scotland because of the cool, moist climate. You can see them growing at John and Cameron Laird’s Fruit Farm near Cupar and pick as many of them as you want to. They are also grown for supermarkets and the fruit industry. The PYO soft fruit range also includes Tayberries – a cross between a raspberry and a blackberry, blackberries, gooseberries, red currants, cherries and apples. Cameron who is originally from the USA makes a range of really fruity jam which can be bought in the farm shop.
Cairnie Fruit Farm, Cairnie, Cupar, Fife KY15 4QD www.cairniefruitfarm.co.uk
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By: Joan Ransley
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