AD FYI: This blog is part of a paid partnership with Castleton Farm. The products which feature in this post were not placed by the brand partner and all views expressed are my own.
It was a scorching Saturday morning in the old granite city and the conditions were perfect for a drive down South of Aberdeen to explore Castleton Farm.
After coming onto my radar during lockdown when I wrote my lockdown take-away meals and home essentials blog, I’ve had my eyes on the Castleton Farm Instagram feed ever since.
The Story so far…
So Castleton Farm, what’s there to know? Well plenty, but I’ll try to be concise.
Located in the heart of the Howe of the Mearns in Aberdeenshire, Castleton Farm is a family run farm, shop and cafe which grows, picks and processes its homegrown fruit and vegetables.
Well known for growing its signature strawberries along with raspberries, cherries and blueberries, Castleon has so much more to it than just fruit and veg. Its produce is used to create a range of food products which are sold in its shop and if that wasn’t enough, there’s an onsite cafe too – but we’ll get onto all that in a few paragraphs.
Winning many awards over the years, quality is at the heart of the business along with owners Ross and Anna Mitchell’s commitment to the environment by farming in an ethical and sustainable way. Good eggs I’d say!
A shop local lovers paradise
Driving a short 30 minutes from Aberdeen and taking in the beautiful Stonehaven coastline glimmering with the sun, I arrived at Castleton Farm in no time. Nestled within rolling hills and scenes of stretching polytunnels (where the magic happens) and murmurs of cows in the distance, the setting is just perfect for anyone looking for an escape from the city.
Walking into the shop, ‘Pure Imagination’ from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) soon played in my head as my eyes panned around a treasure trove of shop top to tail with Castleton products, local and Scottish names.
Shelves stoked full with kitchen essentials like Succulento sauces, Duncan’s of Deeside oatcakes and plenty of selection from the Mearns Marmalades range had me taking stock for a while. And from the kitchen cupboard to the drinks cabinet, beer from nearby Burnside Brewery, Keith Brewery and BrewToon lined the shelves leading to a trove of spirits including Never25, Granite North and Arbkie. In the words of Harry Potter circa 2001, “We’ll take the lot!”.
Moving over to the fridge area, I couldn’t believe the range of ready meals that Castleton had on offer. From traditional favourites like macaroni loaded with plenty of cheese and a hearty steak pie suitable for the family or a taste of thai with crispy honey chilli chicken and a creamy coconut chicken – the list goes on. Its range offers the perfect dine in options at home which you can view and order on its website.
Now I love a scone and I had heard a lot about the scones at Castleton (all good things obviously) and not just the ones you can order in the cafe, the frozen batches which you can buy to bake at home. So you can guess what I added to my basket – a big bag of five ready to bake raspberry scones. An update on how those turned out later.
And speaking of berries, Castleton uses its berries to create a whole host of jams, chutneys and preserves which if i didn’t already have an overloading jam stock at home, I would have got stocked up here. But I did have space for a slim bottle of its raspberry vinegar which i was very interested to try.
And catching my eye right when I was paying were Fancy Piece Selection Boxes and home bake after home bake packaged up perfect to wow any guests stopping in for a visit. Fearing my arm would cripple from the weight of my basket, I had to leave the box of treats behind – the shame.
All in all the shop was a pleasant experience perusing local products, eye boggling over the Castleton range and oohing and ahhing over intriguing finds. If you think you’re popping in for a few things, think again.
Putting the cafe in cafe culture
Shop haul done, it was time to check out the cafe to recharge my caffeine and sugar levels before heading back to Aberdeen.
After strategically placing my shopping finds in a shaded spot of the car (note to self: eat first, shop after), I walked around the south side of the building to enter the cafe.
Luck was on my side and I managed to bag a table for one in its original cafe which looked into its new garden patio space (known as the Conservatory). With sun beaming in through its glass roof and near panoramic windows, this space looked like paradise with greenery and countryside views. The perfect alfresco dining spot for any occasion I’d say.
Distractions of the beautiful setting out of the way, it was time to focus and make the best possible food choice. After seeing plate after plate of super stacked burgers, packed hot smoked salmon baguettes and cream cakes almost too perfect to eat, I soon discovered that there was no risk of making a bad food choice here. Whilst raiding the shelves of the shop, I spotted that Castleton does its very own strawberry tart jelly for making your own tarts at home – but before I did that, I thought I would see how it’s done by ordering a strawberry tart.
In summary, the tart was a dream. This wasn’t your standard tart from the baker with one past its best strawberry on floppy cream in a crumbly damp pastry case, this tart was loaded with fresh strawberries perfectly patterned above a hefty but heavenly velvet cream and topped with its lip-lickingly sticky strawberry jelly. Special shout out to the shortcrust pastry case, this was the sort of pastry that was firm and meets spoon with a touch of resistance before hitting the plate – in other words, Mary Berry would hold it in high regard.
The strawberry tart was just one of the many homemade sweet treats filling the cake cabinet, from lemon meringue pie to carrot cake and thick topped cheesecakes to signature scones – there was plenty to feed any sweet tooth.
As I people watched over each sip of my americano, there was a real sense of community here with the cafe acting as a common stop for friends to catch-up, family to venture out and passers by to take five in a welcoming and charming setting. The culture here is community and sitting within it for just a short time leaves you with one hell of a good mood.
So if you’re after breakfast, lunch for a coffee and cake combo south of the city, Castleton should definitely be right at the top of your list.
Back to the city
With supplies surviving the drive home, I couldn’t wait to get in amongst all my finds.
Starting off with the stars of the show, the berries. It’s been a while since I’ve went out for locally grown berries (I know, shocking) and after having the strawberries and raspberries from Castleton, I soon remembered that supermarket quality comes nowhere close. The strawberries were fresh, juicy and sizeable with succulent texture and tangy taste – just perfect. The raspberries were smooth in taste, not hitting you at the back of the eyes with tangy taste and made the perfect addition to cereal or using as a gin garnish.
Soon devoured on the side of Rora Dairy honey yogurt that I picked up in the shop, I was soon out of stock so made a trip to Forest Farm on the opposite side of the city where stock of Castleton berries can be found.
Next up was the individual steak pie and my goodness, what a pie it was. After sunning itself in the oven for 15 or so minutes, the pie emerged a crisp and flakey pastry lid flakey pastry top with gravy oozing from lid to base – that’s what I call a tease of an eat in my world. Slicing the bad boy open soon revealed it was packed with tender mince filling which was a welcome surprise, one too many times have I had a pie that has a measly layer of gritty mince. Taking this pie to the next level was the addition of carrots into its mix with flavour-packed gravy gave me real comfort food vibes thinking of mince and tattie dinners as a child.
I waited until a slow Sunday came around to try out the bake at home scones which came out perfectly and were just the trick to fill my flat with the smell of freshly baked scones without doing any of the leg work. Now these are sizeable rounds when you take them out the freezer but prepare for them to grow even more in the oven – absolute heaven for me with plenty more room the lather with butter and lots of raspberry jam. I was very surprised with how these turned out, I didn’t expect them to taste like they were baked from scratch but if the rest of my experience was anything to go by, if Castleton does something, it does it right!
And from doing things right to doing things creatively, the raspberry vinegar was inspired. Offering the perfect drizzling on top of a hot summer’s day salad with the perfect balance of sweet and zingy, it was a real treat. I’m a balsamic vinegar guy on my salads through and through but the berry vinegar from Castleton was the subtle addition to add to any salad to give it that little lift without completely overpowering it.
If I was to describe Castleton in a word I would say ‘wholesome’. Its ethos, community culture, homemade food injected with lots of love and overall quality left me with a warm feeling that will always pull me back for more.
Paradise for some may be a beach on a far away sunny island, but mine is Castleton Farm.