INSIDE TRACK: Telling the story of the 21st-century haggis [Herald, The (Scotland)]
(Herald, The (Scotland) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Concomitant with localism's popularity as one of the hippest culinary trends, is the compulsion to tell a dish or ingredient's "story".
Even a humble bag of potatoes can be covered in rambling prose, sometimes accompanied by a photograph, in a bid to sell its unique local credentials; or it may carry a link to a website containing all the details, so consumers can learn which farmer grew the very tubers they hold in their grasp, and where; how his father's father's father started the business way back when, and how just one bite will transport them back three centuries.
It's the same with other local produce; sooner or later wee Larry from Lochwinnoch will be indelibly inked on a tray of lamb cutlets.
This uncharacteristic outpouring has extended to restaurants, where carefully briefed staff will take you on a metaphorical walk through your dish of slow-cooked beef skirt to help you visualise the very grass the animal fed on, feel the sun on its back, and trip through the meadow in which the decorative flowers adorning the plate were picked.
Such Proustian marketing pitches are well-intentioned, designed to further progress the recent renaissance in our proud and ancient food culture.
Now one of Scotland's most venerable brands has opened a new chapter in its own journey. As a novel way of celebrating its 60th birthday MacSween's Haggis has enlisted the services of one Stuart Delves: a professional storyteller.
Working with third-generation siblings Jo and James MacSween, and with funding from the Arts & Business Creativity at Work scheme, Delves has bagged the role of storyteller-in-residence at the haggis factory in Edinburgh. He is meeting everyone involved - from family members and senior managmenent to receptionists, fork lift operators and shop floor workers - to encourage them to tell him about their personal lives as well as their various experiences of working there. Their brief is that they must bring in two objects: something that identifies their relationship with the brand, and something to say who they are outside work.
James brought in a ball of string and two large South African kebab sticks - items he and his father used to outline the layout of the factory. Jo brought a dented tin of recipe cards, a family heirloom more precious than a diamond ring. There were van keys and a golf ball; a tea bag and pill box; and a police record and a Bible.
Some of the outcomes will be posted as blogs on the MacSween website, while others will be used in the staff induction process. A special event is also being planned.
Delves says the process helped him learn how the youthful management team is bringing haggis into the 21st century: it's good for stylish canapes, as a stuffing for red peppers and tomatoes (especially, I'm told, with goats' cheese), and it's now being recognised in contemporary cuisine as charcuterie rather than an old- fashioned pudding. The novelist Irvine Welsh is a fan of haggis burritos made in a local Mexican restaurant in Leith.
With microwaveable versions of the ancient dish now available, I suppose you could always cook it while reading all about it on your Kindle.
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