IN THE winding lanes of Barcelona’s historic Barri Gòtic it’s no surprise to find a little cheese shop tucked amongst the boutiques and antique shops. What is unexpected though is that this shop, Formageria La Seu, the only one on the Iberian peninsula to feature artisanal cheese from all over Catalonia and Spain, is owned and run by a Scots woman – Katherine McLaughlin.

Being very keen on cheese I wanted to try the wares and I saw that sample tastings were available to eat on the premises at the very modest prices of £8.50 for a plate of five cheeses with bread, with a glass of wine costing just under £2.50 and a bottle, £6.50.

Katherine duly seated me on a high stool at the back of the shop and went to prepare the samples. The five cheeses arrived on a platter accompanied not only by the wine and a basket of fresh bread but various tracklements and marmalades and finely sliced green apple.

It all looked and smelled really enticing and I couldn’t wait to get started. Before I could do so, however, Katherine produced a map of Spain which she propped up in front of me and began to explain exactly where each piece of cheese originated. Every cheese, and she stocks between 20-25 varieties, she selects herself. The farm must be small and use its own animals, the milk must be unpasteurised …and she has to like the cheesemakers!

“It’s a personal thing,” Katherine said. “A long-term commitment.” She recognises that having animals to look after as well as making the cheese is hard work. She visits the farms herself often helping with the production – and she doesn’t quibble about the prices.

The first cheese I tasted was Arzua-Ulla, a cow’s milk cheese from Arqueixal. I loved its luxurious creamy and slightly salty flavour, “It is a cow’s milk cheese made by Luis and his lovely team in a village called Alba, situated south of Lugo in Galicia,” Katherine told me. “I have been working with them since the day I opened this shop 19 years ago and I hope always to continue to support them. They have four beautifully restored cottages for visitors and a space for workshops…”

I was imagining how pleasant it would be to spend time there watching them make cheese and taking the cows to pasture when Katherine added, “And Alba is the Gaelic name for Scotland!”

This was the cue for me to ask how a woman from Scotland came to find herself selling cheese in Barcelona. “I had several jobs before this,” she replied. “Teaching English, working as a secretary, that sort of thing. Eventually I ended up with my own restaurant in Scotland – but there came the time when I didn’t want to cook any more. Then one day in London I happened to visit Neal’s Yard Dairy. It was only a tiny place back then but I fell in love with what they were doing. I knew I want to do something like it.”

By now I had moved on to my second piece of cheese, El Petit Ot d’Alba, a beautiful little Catalan unpasteurised goat’s cheese named, Katherine told me, after Marti, the cheesemaker’s son Ot. It is made from the milk of his flock of 200 goats at the Mas Alba in the villages of Taradelles and they too offer eco-tourism. “Marti never fails to surprise me with his quest for diversity in his cheese – and his thoughts on Catalan independence.” Katherine added.

“ What about you?” I couldn’t resist asking. Katherine who speaks both Spanish and Catalan had told me she liked the Catalans. “They are supposed to be like the Scots, ie tight!” she joked and added, “I am in favour of Catalan independence, not because I see Catalonia better – only different.”

And what about Scottish independence? “Well, I grew up, as most did in Scotland to vote only for the Labour Party. Voting for the Tories was impossible, to say the least. That changed as we saw the Labour Party moving more to the right. The Scottish referendum came along with Gordon Brown spouting words like "Better Together" and threatening the Scots with an independent Scotland out of Europe and losing all their pensions with it. The Scottish independence vote lost and life went on. A few years later, along comes the European referendum where Scotland voted 62% to remain in Europe – and lo and behold, we look like we are going to be leaving the EU. Congratulations, Gordon! And by the way, he is from my town, Kirkcaldy.”

That brought us back to her own story. “After Neal’s Yard what happened?” I asked. “Well, first I went to Scotland and worked for Iain Mellis, the cheesemonger who had opened an artisan cheese shop in Edinburgh,” Katherine replied. “My brother and sister were living in Barcelona, so I moved here, originally with the idea of sourcing Spanish cheese for Iain and then bringing Scottish cheese to Barcelona.”

This turned out to be a lot of hassle involving taxes and transport costs so although she dropped the idea it did give her the opportunity to travel all over Spain and to get to know the farmhouse cheesemakers.

By now I was on to El Cremos (Veigadarte), a deliberately acidic goat’s cheese made in the village of Ambasmestas in El Bierza near Leon. “Joaquin and his team make as variety of different cheeses and operate very slickly which means you get what you ask for,” said Katherine before taking up her own story once again.

“This place used to be where they made butter,” she said gesturing the shop. “It was really old and had been shut for 18 years but although I had never seen inside I was interested. I phoned the owner to see if he would rent it. He couldn’t decide so I phoned him every three months and eventually he left a message on my answerphone and I met him. Coincidentally he was doing a thesis on milk. Anyway I made him an offer which he accepted.”

By now the cheese I was enjoying was the Manchego. This was one of the few Spanish cheeses I thought I’d recognise. I didn’t – because this wasn’t supermarket stuff – it was the real thing.

“I have stuck my neck out and only sell one, Manchego Navaloshaces which is made by an artisanal producers in Ciudad Real from the milk of their race of ancient manchega ewes who graze the sparse vegetation in the dry rocky district of La Mancha.”

The flavour was deep and rich – possibly the sort of cheese Don Quixote would have enjoyed, I thought. I certainly did.

“I opened here in 2000, “Katherine continued. “I live a couple of doors down and with a good friend I’ve now opened a bar, Zim, next door. My sister has the building and the bar is below. There we have unusual wines, cold meats and, of course, cheese. We treat the customer with a peto with the first glass of wine.” I had no idea what a peto was but Katherine just laughed said I’d have to come to find out.

My last piece of cheese was Picon-Bejes-Treviso, a raw blue cow’s milk cheese made by Javier Campo who has been mayor of Treviso Cantabria for over 20 years and making cheese for over 30. “ He has 33 cows, 9 Jerseys and the rest Brown Swiss. In terms of volume I don’t do this little gem justice,” said Katherine. “It's a complex blue cheese which balances fruitiness with a subtle but pleasant bite at the end.”

It was a great note on which to finish. I liked Katherine a lot. She came over as an independent, sassy lady who knows what she is talking about. She has made a success of her unique venture because she is doing what she enjoys. She is also a straight talker, someone who annoys the tourists by banning photography in the shop, while at the same time being as kind a person as you could wish to meet.

Formatgeria La Seu, Carrer Dagueria 16, Barri Gotic, Barcelona