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We first discovered the excellence of Scottish cheeses during a golf trip to the Isle of Mull, which, our Scottish friends insisted, has one of the best nine-hole courses in the world. As beautiful as it was challenging, Tobermory was very much worth the journey.
But the most lasting impression during this trip was made, quite unexpectedly, by the Isle of Mull cheddar we tasted at lunch. This ivory-colored example, made from locally produced unpasteurized milk, was something really special, with its compact texture and intriguing array of flavors, ranging from mustard to beef bouillon to amber spirits. On returning to Edinburgh, we asked around for the name of the city’s best cheesemonger so we could take some home (the USDA has no quarrel with bringing in hard cheeses). I. J. Mellis was the unanimous recommendation, which is how we ended up visiting this snug shop on Victoria Street.
Mellis originally worked for the North of Scotland Milk Marketing Board as a laboratory technician and then moved on to become a cheesemaker in Orkney. He followed up this debut experience in the world of cheese by heading to Cheshire in England, where he was head cheesemaker at a dairy for seven years. He returned to Scotland in 1993 and founded his shop.
On a wet afternoon, the affable Mellis gave me a delicious tutorial in Scottish cheeses. “We don’t make a lot of cheese, but it has a lot of character,” he told us while we nibbled little slices of velvety Bishop Kennedy, an unpasteurized cow’s-milk cheese named for a 15th-century bishop of St. Andrews. Just as I was about to ask about the peaty nose of this cheese, Mellis volunteered an explanation: “The rind of this one is washed with malt whisky during the maturing stage.” Then he surprised us with one of the best blue cheeses either of us had ever tasted, Strathdon Blue, which cheesemaker Ruaraidh Stone produces in a converted brewery by the sea in Tain. Made from pasteurized cow’s milk, this rich, creamy cheese, craggy with blue veins, won a gold medal at the World Cheese Awards and is superb with Port, Madeira or Oloroso.
Since then, we never go to Scotland without stocking up at Mellis’ on Victoria Street or one of his five other Scottish locations (in addition to three others in Edinburgh, he has one in St. Andrews and one in Glasgow).