May 2014

LISDD:2006.40 Chisit or Fighan (Gaelic) – a wooden, straight sided, tapering bowl, metal bound as in a cask, with perforated base.  Height 165 mm, radius at rim 230 mm.

Chisit or Fighan (Gaelic)

Chisit or Fighan (Gaelic)

Making cheese has a long history on Lismore.   At the 1638 baron court for Lismore, one of the Baligrundle tenants was found to be liable to pay 4 stones of cheese (as well as 5 pints of butter, I pint of milk and 2 gallons of ale) to thetacksman “for prysit biggings & kailyeirds” (for valuing buildings and kailyards).

On the, predominantly pastoral, mainland of Argyll, it was common for part of a tenant’s rent to be paid in dairy products, but Lismore was an arable island.  Rents were paid mainly in grain, meal and whisky, and the milk, butter and cheese made from the house cows were mainly for family use.  A review of the traditional rents paid in kind on the Airds estate around 1840 (Balnagown, Kilandrist, Baligarve, Balure, Achuran, Tirfuir and Frackersaig) includes eggs, hens, ducks, pigs, seal oil and yarn but no butter or cheese.

The nineteenth century was an active time for making cheese, especially as more productive dairy breeds, including the Ayrshire, arrived on the island.  The 1868 diary of  Mary MacGregor, wife of the parish minister, reveals that she and her house servants were busy making cheese from Lady, the manse cow, almost daily from June to September.

The traditional method was to hold the milk in a clean warm environment (normally the dairy) for several hours to allow fermentation to proceed from natural inoculation and then to coagulate the milk to give curds (using bought rennet in more recent years).  The curds could be eaten as soft cheese (“crowdie”) or placed in fine cheesecloth in the “chisit” and pressed by weights on a wooden lid to drive out the whey through holes in its base.  This gave a white cheese, which could be eaten fresh or salted for longer storage.   The products of several days could be combined and compressed to give a harder cheese using a bigger-scale cheese press.

Cheese Press at Balure - reproduced with the permission of John and Dorothy Livingstone

Cheese Press at Balure – reproduced with the permission of John and Dorothy Livingstone

The chisit in the museum collection came from the family of Donald Black, although the museum record states that it was John Livingstone’s mother Christina who made the last cheese on Lismore for the MacDonald family on Baligrundle 2, around the time of  the Second World War.  She was a well-known producer of both butter and cheese from the Balure Ayrshire cows.

Show Catalogue

Show Catalogue

Show Entries

Show Entries

The Ayrshire became the dominant breed on the island between the wars.  By the 1925 Show of the Lismore Agricultural Society, the Highland Cattle classes had been given up; half of the eight classes were for Ayrshires and half for crosses.  The Shows also included well-contested classes for butter but not cheese.  The image shows Malcolm McDonald, Achnacroish, (Society committee member, regularly entering horses and cattle in the 1920s and 1930s) with one of his prize winning Ayrshire cows.

Ayrshire Cow

Ayrshire Cow