Ok, you’re going to think I’m insane with this one, and to be fair, you’re not alone. Even the waitress clearly thought I was crazy when I ordered it at A Room in the Town the other night. But the thing is, I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve become a risk-taking eater, to some extent. The crazier something sounds on a menu, the more I want to try it. So when I spotted Blaand on their puddings menu with the other after-dinner drinks and saw that it was a liquor made from whey (the leftovers from making cheese), I thought: ‘that just sounds too bizarre to pass up!’
When the waitress came back around I passed on pudding but asked for a glass of the Blaand. She stared at me and asked, ‘Are you sure? Do you know what it is?’ I smiled pleasantly back and said I did. She hurried off to fetch me a taste before pouring a full glass, probably figuring she was dealing with a tourist getting in over her head and anticipating me spitting a glassful right in my husband’s face, which would be a pain to clean up.
Back she came with a glass of honeysuckle-colored liquor, which surprised me. I guess because I had cheese on the brain, I half expected it to look milky, almost like a white Russian or something. This was soothingly familiar looking, like a glass of a rich chardonnay. I sniffed, I tasted.
It’s like nothing I’d ever drunk before, and I used to write a wine column, so I’ve tried a fair number of quaffs. The first flavor is an eye-opening saltiness that says: “This is not your average after-dinner drink. Brace yourself.” But then it moves right along to a tasty sour note tempered by a lightly sweetened edge, like honeyed Granny Smith apples. To finish, there’s a slightly earthy flavour that, I’m ashamed to admit, I couldn’t quite place, but it was quite pleasing and left me wanting more. The shocked waitress obligingly brought me a full glass, which I polished off slowly. This, like most after-dinner drinks, is a sipper, and it was actually wonderfully refreshing on a summer evening. The menu advises you try it with cheese (makes sense, it being the product of a cheese byproduct), and yes, it would be an excellent accompaniment to a fairly strong or heavy cheese that needs something to cut the richness. It would be marvelous with a blue, for example, or even a creamy brie.
Having raved about it, I have to admit that this probably isn’t for everyone. I got the distinct impression that you either love this stuff (me) or hate it (waitress), but it’s definitely worth trying, even if it’s just so you can say you did it.
Blaand actually has a nice long history in Scotland, even longer than the whisky this country is so well known for. It was brought over by the Vikings way back when, and it has the distinction of not being classifiable as a wine, a spirit, or a beer because of what it’s made out of. It has about the same alcohol content as wine and is served in similar quantities.
Blaand was produced on a small scale throughout Scotland for years, mostly by farmers and crofters who were making cheese and hated to waste the whey. It was used for medicinal purposes and sailors used to take barrels of it on board ship to help them stay warm. With the advent of more mechanized farming and cheese production in the 20th century, the production of Blaand petered out, only to be revived in the last few years by a historian-turned-Lanarkshire farmer named Humphrey Errington (who is also credited with creating the now-famous Lanark Blue cheese). Errington was looking for a way to use the whey on his farm and found an old recipe for Blaand. He whipped some up, aged it in oak casks, and named it “Fallachan,” which is Gaelic for “hidden treasure.”
A most apt name, I’d say.