KL Keller Foodways proudly offers an array of All Butter Shortbread by Reids of Caithness, crowned 2017 Scottish Baker of the Year. This family bakery in northernmost Scotland, led by Gary Reid, handcrafts authentic all butter shortbread cookies using time-honored baking methods and good, pure local ingredients. Kitty tells the story of how she came to import these buttery delights:
On a freezing January night in 2013, after completing the Winter Fancy Food Show, I headed off to the SIRHA hospitality exposition in Lyon, France with Linda Sikorski (Senior Buyer, Market Hall Foods). We then proceeded to the largest confection show in the world: the ISM in Cologne, Germany. It is held at the Koelnmesse, the sixth largest trade center in the world, with a whopping capacity of 275,000.
danger in düsseldorf
In Düsseldorf, on our way to the ISM, we had to negotiate the train station platform. It was made of marble, and slippery frost covered everything, so we stealthed our way across it like thieves on creaky floorboards. A cracked kneecap would result in thousands of dollars of lost opportunity—and, of course, a modicum of pain. Ahhh, the romantic life of a food forager.
aisles of nectar
The ISM shows everything sweet you can imagine (and some you wouldn't want to): exotic chocolate for specialty stores, cheap chocolate for grocery stores, long industrial equipment for commercial chocolate-enrobing lines, cookies of every inclination, licorice from tooth-achingly sweet to tongue-swellingly salty, gummy-everything, turrón, toronne, and nougat (the same item from three different countries), chocolate fountains—entire alleys of odes to the sugarcane, thrown together with no particular logic: eight pavilions of sweet wonder and a whole lot of walking.
It was toward the terminus of our food forager death march—at the lonely end of a hall featuring mostly packaging equipment, in a modest little booth—that we first came across Gary Reid and his oatcakes. At the time, oats were ubiquitous (like pomegranate, açaí berries and coconut). But we tasted them and—wow, these weren't just any ol' oats! And Gary Reid was a delight: friendly, willing and open to ideas. We started talking. His ambitions were grand, but his perspective realistic. He developed a USA-specific package for his oatcakes, both sweet and savory, and we began our professional relationship.
In 2014, Linda and I returned to the ISM and there was Gary in a nicer, larger corner booth, in a far more humane corridor. But he was all by himself. Every day, as Linda and I took the train to the show, we'd stop in the main station to purchase delicious, hearty sandwiches for ourselves. We thought of Gary standing there alone in his booth, so we brought him lunch too! He was very appreciative, and would wait until we stopped by so we could all have lunch together. To reciprocate for the lunches, Gary invited us to dinner. (pictured: Kitty Keller, Gary Reid and Linda Sikorski)
Now, as a frequent forager, I can assure you that, during a Deutschland winter, pork and sausage get really old, so we had been eating Italian. But we wanted Gary to be happy, so we inquired, "Do you like German food?"
"What about Italian?"
Then he suggested, "How do you ladies like Lebanese?"
the big win
And off we went to the culinary discovery of Köln: a restaurant called Beirut. Even with reservations, it was jam-packed, so we sat in their side room chatting and drinking the best beer ever, Kölsch, the local suds specific to Köln, in frosty little 200ml glasses (to keep it cold and fizzy). When dinner came—plate after plate—it included something that I hadn't seen much of in Germany: vegetables! The meal was sumptuous (we ate like sultans while, outside, the sideways, icy rain slanted down) and the company was the best of all.
oh yeah . . . the shortbread!
Between 2013 and 2014, Reids of Caithness had been commissioned to do several SKUs of All Butter Shortbread for Partridges, the famous (Queen's warrant) store. The packaging was beautiful and the ingredients clean, so we started selling Reids All Butter Shortbread under the Partridges label. We were in! (Forager digression: All Butter Shortbread is not that easy to find. A fair amount of the products from the UK have margarine in them, so Reids shortbread was a real find!)
the glorious future
Gary's business has evolved from a family storefront to a factory still baking in the family storefront way. He gets visits from bonnie Prince Charles when HRH is in Balmoral. And he sends containers of shortbread all over the world. In 2017, thanks to his skill and character, he was awarded the coveted Scottish Baker of the Year. Meanwhile, the Reids packaging has evolved to reflect the quality and global relevance of his line.
Not a bad outcome for a long, cold trip to Köln!