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The consumption of meat in Shetland reflects the varied cultural influences and history of the Islands.
Under the rule of the Kingdom of Denmark and Norway until the mid 15th Century, Shetland retains a strong Scandinavian flavour in its customs and culture. This influence went relatively unchecked until the mid 18th century when the increasing power of the Lairds from mainland Scotland brought about a rapid change in culture, dialect and eating habits.
Meat was traditionally a cold weather feast in Shetland. Fish would be dried in Springtime and eaten throughout the summer. In September, the older sheep from the farmers flock would be slaughtered and prepared for the winter months. Two specific Shetland methods of preparation were used.
The meat would be salted in brine and then would be hung in the rafters of the house usually above the peat fire. The smoke would season the meat. Reestit Mutton is still popular today and can be seen still hanging in many houses, especially in the rural communities. It is also sold in some shops although, increasingly and contrary to tradition, lamb is used rather than mutton. Reestit Mutton is probably as close to being Shetland’s ‘national’ dish as is possible.
The term ‘Vivda’ is said to be old Norse for ‘leg meat’. It is probable that Vivda was more traditional in Shetland that Reestit Mutton, certainly until salt became more widespread as a preservative.
The meat would be dried in special ventilated stone houses called ‘Skeos’ and would be sited nearby the seashore in order to harness the salty air. Some meat was actually dried in caves. Many of these Skeos can still be seen today. Vivda would be dried without any salt being applied and would hang for around 4-5 months before being consumed.
Unfortunately, consumption of Vivda began to die out in the late 18th century and by the mid 19th, had disappeared almost all together. Vivda remains a steadfast delicacy in the Faroe Islands and variations on a theme are widespread in the other Scandinavian territories.
Although Shetland’s native breed of cattle were essentially reared for milk production, the traditional Shetland diet would have included some beef. Again, this meat would be wind-dried.
The present day
The modern Shetlander’s taste in meat mirrors that of the British mainland with beef, pork and lamb being the predominant red meats of choice. Reestit Mutton still enjoys a place in the Shetland diet as a seasonal speciality. Mutton itself has suffered along with that of UK national consumption but hopefully is undergoing something of a renaissance at present.
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