CHEESE is one of the oldest processed foods in the world, a vital way of storing surplus milk. Essentially, it’s milk with the moisture deliciously removed. The harder the cheese, the longer it keeps.

In France, a nation famous for its cheeses, children are taught from a young age how to choose a good cheese, and a cheeseboard is an integral part of many European meals. Wendy Barrie is the author of The Scottish Food Guide and The Scottish Cheese Trail. A typical breakfast for her involves at least two cheeses – for example a Westray cheese and an Isle of Mull Blue on rye bread.

“I love cheese so much, I married a Nordic dairy farmer,” she laughs. Barrie’s passion for cheese takes her across the country. “The people behind the food interest me. It’s not just the cheese, it is the families and communities you are supporting when you eat that cheese. The farmers are often as rare a breed as the animals.”

The National: Curious Friesians roaming the fieldCurious Friesians roaming the field

Dairies and dairy farms are disappearing across Scotland at an alarming rate. For those interested in vibrant and diverse communities, the loss of family farms raises alarm bells.

There are pockets of hope, however. Brendan Reade is part of the family business behind The Isle of Mull Cheese. It has a breeding herd of 300 cattle, with a mix of Friesian, Swedish Reds, Norwegian, and Ayrshires to give a rich mix of milk for their impressive range of award-winning cheeses.

“We win awards which, of course, is great but our main focus is producing the best cheese we can. It comes down to three things: our cheese-making process; good grazing; and happy cows,” Reade says.

The Isle of Mull Cheese is the last dairy of its kind in the Hebrides, which had a vibrant sector before the big supermarkets began competing with local producers.

“Farming is central to our community,” Reade adds. “It is very important to have jobs on Mull. Our traditional process employs many more people than a factory would. Our Isle of Mull brand is a hugely important selling point. Visitors here want to buy an authentic local product, and people elsewhere want a taste There are an increasing number of dairies which are making the most of Scotland’s rich language to get their product out there. The Tin Coo, in Portlethen, near Aberdeen, has the sublime and deliciously crumbly “Fet Like”. Highland Fine Cheese, in Tain, has “The Minger” – diplomatically described as a pungent soft-washed rind cheese.

Ruaraidh Stone is a cheesemaker with Highland Fine Cheese. He says: “When making cheese, you are farming bacteria. It’s an art with the flavour depending on what the cattle are eating, on the time of day, the time of year. When you eat cheese, you are treading the ground between nature, art, and science.”

Ruaraidh comes from a long line of cheesemakers. His mother, Susannah, brought crowdie back from the brink of oblivion in the 1960s. This light cheese, unique to the Highlands and islands, was a staple food of crofters for centuries.

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Cream would be skimmed from the top of the churn to make butter and the remainder of the milk would be put beside the range until it turned into crowdie, ready to be eaten with oatcakes. A nutritious and delicious combination.

For those of us on tighter budgets, a mature Scottish cheddar grated across a dish adds a delicious layer of flavour.

It is a concern that “own-brand” Scottish cheese is getting harder to find. Authenticity is key. There are cheeses out there which look the biz: encased in bright wax with clever designs giving the hint of a local product but which are really rather expensive balls of processed cheese with added flavour.

If you want to support Scotland’s dairy sector, keep an eye on the label.

Ruth Watson is the founder of the Keep Scotland the Brand campaign