A Culinary Tour of the Orkney Islands

Orkney is home to some of the most flavoursome of Scottish specialities, from the meat infused with the sea by seaweed-munching sheep, to the fruits of the fresh waters around it, the islands are a top destination for foodies.

Published 18th May 2018
Updated 31 st Oct 2023


On North Ronaldsay, the most northerly of the Orkney Islands, a flock of the rare and hardy North Ronaldsay sheep thrive on a diet of seaweed.

This biodynamic, dark and intensely flavoured meat has a distinctive gamey taste.

At Deerness, there are buffalo, a local favourite that is lower in cholesterol than most other meats. For vegans there is Selkie Seaweed, harvested from the pure waters around these islands. Seaweed was a big part of the Celtic diet but now it is making a comeback.


As the hard-drinking inhabitants know well, Orkney is home to some exquisite liquors. 'Orcadians are not given to bragging and neither is Scapa whisky,' but you'd be forgiven for thinking there was only one whisky made in Orkney, Highland Park.


Picture: Søren Solkær

Scapa is the lighter, more accessible of the two, made with water from the Orquil Springs for the 'mashing'. Perfect for keeping you warm on a stormy night on the Orkneys.

Beer & wine

The food and drink artisans of Orkney produce food and drink following traditional methods and unhurried processes. No more so than at the Orkney Brewery where they make Dark Island, a strong Orcadian Ale.

The Orkney Wine Company is the UK's most northerly winery and makes a variety of sulphur-free, vegan fruit based wine and liquors. A Cask of Elderberry Borealis is matured in an Orkney Bere Barley whisky cask and will set you back only £22.95.


There are plenty of fantastic restaurants and hotels to eat in Orkney. The famous but cosy Hamnavoe Restaurant in Stromness is famed for their seafood. Found up a nook of a street, it is reservations only and open during the summer months.


Skerries Bistro. Picture: Visit Orkney

The Skerries Bistro in St Margaret's Hope, another local favourite, has stunning views across the Pentland Firth and uses only locally sourced sustainable ingredients with a menu that evolves with the seasons.


Orkney is famous for its seafood, from hand-dived scallops, crab, lobster to Partan toes (crab claws). You can buy seafood direct from fishermen or at Jollys where they smoke fish in their own kiln. Salt and air dried fish is the traditional method of preserving fish in the islands.

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Farmhouse cheeses were an Orkney tradition until legislation stopped much of the production. Orkney is famous for its cheeses and the Island Smokery also produce smoked cheese.

Then there is the much sought after Grimbister Farm Cheese, the crumbly textured cheese with a lemony tang. Breadcrumbed and fried Grimbister Cheese is a famous starter in Orkney restaurants.

For those who like their cheese squeaky, there's Veira Russell's highly prized farmhouse cheese. And for an oatcake on which to put these crumbly cheese, reach no further than a Stockan's Oatcakes, which have been baked on the islands for over 100 years.

Bere Bannocks


Picture: Lou Sander/Wikimedia

Bere Bannocks are a thick scone unique to Orkney, made using barley grown and milled in Orkney and baked on a girdle. Bere is a kind of barley that's been grown in Orkney for thousands of years and is also used for brewing ale. At Barony Mills in Birsay you can see for yourself as the miller demonstrates the machinery to visitors. You can even buy a bag of beremeal to make them at home yourself.

Sweet treats

For the sweet-toothed, Orkney is a real treat. Orkney fudge is still hand-made in Stromness at the Argo's Bakery using the same recipe for many generations. Orkney Fudge Cheesecake is a speciality often on the desert menu of local restaurants.

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Orkney Ice Cream is made using centuries-old traditional processes at The Orkney Creamery. It was first introduced to use up a surplus when semi-skimmed milk became popular, but it is now sold all over the country in flavours as wild as the islands.

Why is this ice cream so tasty? The locals say it is so good because the cows live a stress-free life munching on fertile grass near the sea. It wouldn't be fair to disclose our favourite food or drink from Orkney.

As the local saying goes, 'don't rock the boat'.

• READ MORE: Danish photographer captures Highland Park distillery in stunning photographs

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Claire Daly is a freelance journalist based in Edinburgh. She writes for The Scotsman, Scottish Woman and Made magazine. She comes from a family of chefs and especially enjoys puddings, unusual drinks and locally sourced produce.
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