Producer of the Month: Catriona Farquharson, Finzean Farm Shop, Royal Deeside
It's almost five years since Catriona Farquharson and her sister-in-law Kate, daringly stepped into the unknown and opened the Finzean Farm Shop and Cafe. Finzean is one of those farm shops that does what it says on the sign. It is all about supplying local everyday produce to the local community.
Here at Love British Food, we have visited many farm shops. To run a farm shop that is appealing to most of the population, stays loyal to local produce and breaks even is no mean feat. The balance is astoundingly difficult to attain. Finzean is one of those farm shops that gets it just right and does it exactly as it says on the sign. Much of the produce - the venison, game, rabbit - come from the Finzean estate itself. A number of local farmers in Finzean and surrounding villages supply the several varieties of potatoes, root vegetables and apples that are on sale and the estate's retired game-keeper supplies heather and clover honey. The hand-baked bread is sensational. The preserves and pickles are made in the cafe kitchen using ingredients sourced from the vicinity. The pork, fish, eggs and award-winning cheeses are also all locally produced. Finzean is not too gift-orientated either and the majority of merchandise that is on sale is stunning art by local artists and an array of fascinating foodie books and literature about the region.
Finzean is all about the local community. The shop is in a very rural location and has evolved into a real meeting place as well as a supplier of local produce. They recently hosted 22 pupils from nearby Ballogie Nursery, who had been working on a farm project. The children were taken into the kitchen to watch chef Karen Brown make scones. They then did stock control in the shop and helped to sort out the fresh fruit and vegetables before consuming the scones.
It's almost five years since the farm shop opened, in a calculated move by the Finzean Estate to diversify its business after the demise of the grouse population in the area.
- Why do you do what you do?
We wanted to promote our own beef, venison and game and sell them directly to the local population. We needed to diversify and had a redundant steading with outstanding views which cried out to be made into a shop and tearoom. When we first opened, there weren't too many suppliers in Deeside but that's really changed. We now have Wark Farm, the Devenick Dairy and Cambus O'May cheese, to name a few. More and more people want to know where their food is coming from and they like to see things like Mrs Cumming's eggs from Tarland in the shop and on our breakfast menu. We love where we live and it's fun to be able to pass that onto customers - be they from nearby Aboyne or Italy. We often get motor bikers from Holland who stumble on us by chance and it's great seeing their surprise that somewhere like Finzean Farm Shop exists off the beaten track. No day is ever the same.
- What achievement are you most proud of?
The fact that we went against the initial feasibility study and advice that we were far too rural to survive and now have a loyal following and a thriving business promoting the best of local British produce. We're very proud of employing local youngsters and giving them work experience - everyone should have a go at being a waitress in life as it makes you a much nicer customer!
- What is your most memorable moment?
Apart from our first day of opening when we had all the family on board to help - there were so many of us we rather outnumbered the customers - it has to be surviving last winter with four feet of snow day in and day out, for months. As our staff are so local they just donned their welly boots and walked in. We made loads of ready made meals - cottage pies, soups etc. and then had a delivery service operating out of the tractor. My father plays 'Happy Birthday' on the pipes on birthdays which has brought tears of happiness to some and amusement to others - one old lady's daughter wrote to say that it made her mother smile for the first time since her husband had died.
- If you were Prime Minister, what one thing would you do to encourage more people to eat British food?
Place more emphasis on eating locally and seasonally on the school curriculum - all school children should do compulsory farm visits to understand where their food comes from. We've lost that link somewhere along the way. In France, most people have a family member that is involved in some form of farming. It is simply not the case in the UK anymore. The countryside is only beautiful because the farmers keep it that way - support the farmers so they can support the countryside for the rest of us to enjoy.
- What is your favourite food and why?
You can't beat a Sunday roast - especially if the British beef is well hung in the traditional way.
- What are your predictions for the future of British food?
People are taking far more care about what they eat which is fantastic. There's a huge improvement in the standard of British food in restaurants in the last five years and it will hopefully get better and better. Gone is the iceberg lettuce and coleslaw out of a tub - we Brits love cookery books and with the popularity of cooking programmes such as Master Chef, people are being inspired to be more adventurous.
- If you were an advertising executive what slogan would you use to promote British food?
- Best budget tip?
- What's on the menu this evening?
- How can people get hold of your produce?