The Scottish invasion of Greensboro just in time for the holidays
Nestled inside a business park at 1908 Fairfax Rd., is a wee shop that brings an authentic taste of Scotland to Greensboro. Scottish Gourmet USA was founded by Anne E. Robinson in 2005 in New Jersey, and the business just moved to Greensboro in April 2017. Robinson said she moved to Greensboro to be closer to customers. She chose North Carolina as her new headquarters because she had more customers in here than in any other state, which she said has to do with the history of North Carolina and Scottish immigration. On Nov. 16, Scottish Gourmet USA held a grand opening at the Greensboro location.
When Robinson was courting her now-husband, Andrew Hamilton (who she describes as “a kilt-wearing, scotch- drinking, Scottish chef and hotelier from Inverness”), she was living in New York, and he was living in Scotland. After meeting at a trade show in New York, Robinson accepted his invitation to visit his homeland and kept going back. Every time she returned, Robinson had brought more and more food stuffed in her suitcase. One of those items, in particular, was her favorite Struan Heather Honey.
“It is very different from regular honey,” she said. “It is kind of like the difference between coffee and espresso; it is just sort of stronger and richer.”
Robinson said bringing back the food was the inspiration for starting Scottish Gourmet USA. Robinson said she realized that there was nobody in America selling authentic Scottish food. But Robinson did not rush right into the business venture until she took an extensive two-week eating tour of Scotland.
“We literally drove around Scotland and went to every fancy food store that there was,” Robinson said. “We found lots of lovely, small companies that made delicious jams, jellies, sauces, honey, shortbread and cheese. I mailed the first catalog in August 2005.”
In the beginning, Robinson said she thought she was going to be selling exclusively to foodies.
“But what it turned into was people with connections to Scotland,” she said. “Either expats who grew up in Scotland or England and came to the United States or who had roots, or had been the Scotland and fallen in love with something. But it all revolved around Scotland than around food.”
Scottish Gourmet offers mainly food products consisting of Scottish meats such as Scottish-style back bacon, puddings (oatmeal mixed with pork) and bridies.
Flown in straight from Scotland, Robinson also offers authentic Scottish seafood options such as smoked salmon, smoked kippers and smoked haddock and Scottish cheeses such as gouda from Connage, Ardmore, Auld Reekie and Hebridean Blue. Scottish Gourmet also carries Scottish comfort foods and sweets such as Cock-a-leekie soup mix, tins of whiskey fudge, whiskey cake, Edinburgh rock, shortbread cookies and Scottish tablets. Even though the food is what got Robinson in this business, she sells quite a bit of Scottish novelty items. Some of these items include Christmas tree ornaments, coffee mugs and dish towels donned with the Scottish thistle (the national flower) and clan cloots (cloot is Scottish for cloth, and on each cloth has the corresponding clan badge).
Haggis was the unlikely best-seller that Robinson added two years after starting the business and is still the product with the most demand. What exactly is Haggis? Traditionally, Robinson said, it is the “pluck” of the sheep or the stuff that comes out of the center of the sheep.
“Imagine you are a tenant farmer,” she said. “And you raise sheep on the landowner’s land, you would have to pay your rent, and you might pay it with a lamb. You’d have to slaughter the lamb, and you might keep the stuff out of the center of the sheep, and the rest of the meat would go to the landowner or laird. The wife would take the pluck (the heart, the lungs and the liver) and grind it up and add oatmeal, spices and broths. Then she would cook it in the sheep’s stomach because they would never have had a pot. They needed something strong to cook it over the fire. And that is what Haggis is, traditionally.”
Robinson said it is no longer cooked in the sheep’s stomach and in America, you are not allowed to have the sheep lungs cooked into it because of tuberculosis. Scottish Gourmet’s Haggis is not made with the traditional ingredients because without the lungs, there is not enough meat from the liver and the heart is considered a very rare delicacy, she said. Instead, Scottish Gourmet’s Haggis is made from lamb breast, onion, oatmeal, spices and some beef liver to add a texture and gamey flavor.
“It should be crumbly and slightly peppery,” Robinson said. “It tastes more like a lamb burger with some oatmeal in it more than anything.”
Robinson said Haggis is her best-selling item that she would never have expected. She sells Haggis from one to five pounds and either in a natural casing, plastic casing or a tray.
“I made the first batch of Haggis in 2007- 10 years ago and I never in my wildest dreams thought it was going to be the biggest selling product of the company,” she said. “But it is.”
Robinson said a French pate maker in New Jersey is responsible for making all of the Haggis she supplies and has been making it for 10 years. Robinson said he spends Dec. 15 through Jan. 15 making all the Haggis because of all the Scottish holidays that are coming up.
Starting it off on Nov. 30 is St. Andrew’s Day, a holiday celebrated to honor the patron saint of Scotland.
“St. Andrew’s Day is more of a holiday outside of Scotland than in Scotland, and it celebrates Scottish culture,” Robinson said. “And the contributions of Scots to the world.”
The Scottish new year is called Hogmanay, and it is celebrated right at midnight on New Year’s day and on Jan. 25 is Burns Supper. This holiday honors and celebrates the beloved poet and “the Scottish Bard” Robert Burns, who was born on Jan. 25, 1759.
For more information about this wee shop and to stock up on some Haggis, visit Scottish Gourmet USA’s website, or call (877) 814-3663
Katie Murawski is the editor of YES! Weekly. She is from Mooresville, North Carolina and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in journalism with a minor in film studies from Appalachian State University in 2017.