Historical accounts vary when it comes to the origins of the raw milk cheese known as crowdie. Some say the fresh dairy spread comes from Scotland’s Viking era, which began at the end of the eighth century, while others point even earlier, to the Picts, a northern Scotland–dwelling group who first appear in historical texts in the late third century. Although it gradually became popular in single-cow homesteads across the country, this spreadable, mousse-like product is now a rare find.
Crofters (farmers who tended small, rented plots of land) traditionally made crowdie using raw milk left to sour on a windowsill or by the fireside. They gently curdled the mixture, then added salt and cream after straining out the whey. Today, modern regulations ban raw crowdie-making due to the resulting cheese’s high moisture content and short shelf life. Despite the potential for pathogenic breeding grounds in commercial production environments, steadfast artisans stick to making the real deal on the down-low. Industrial renditions that use pasteurized milk result in little likeness to traditional crowdie.
Scots spread the tangy topping on sweet and savory dishes alike, akin to cream cheese. Crowdie works just as well with trout and potato as it does smeared alongside jam on scones. Bakers also use it as a dessert cheese in cheesecakes and trifles. Food lore traces the origins of cranachan, a popular Scottish dessert medley of whisky- and honey-soaked oats, raspberries, and fresh cream, to an older meal of crowdie cheese mixed with oats and honey. Though crowdie most often refers to the soft cheese, the term has culinary and linguistic associations with oats. Scots have historically referred to oatmeal-based gruel as “crowdie.” Over time, the cheese won the official title, but lest we forget the battle, crowdie is still often sold coated in oats.