Michele Shirlow – Farm Week Column 9th August 2018

Awards great endorsement of the quality of our food and drink and the skills of producers

I was delighted to see so many Food NI member companies collecting gold stars in the recently announced Great Taste Awards. Sixty of the 70 award winning companies are members, producing 200 of the 300 products to achieve gold stars in what has become the most influential food event of its kind in the UK, Ireland and other parts of Europe.

It was tremendously encouraging to see so many companies successful in a competition which is watched closely by major retailers and foodservice organisations especially in Britain.

Fifteen products, including four from Hannan Meats and two from Thompson’s Teas, achieved the coveted three-star golds. Interestingly, Northern Ireland products gained 15 three-star golds while companies in the Republic recorded 10.

And all the winning companies in the first-ever British Charcuterie Awards in London – Corndale Free Range, Limavady, Hannan Meats, Moira and Ispini Charcuterie, Aughnacloy are also active Food NI members.  Our charcuterie producers have achieved a huge amount in just a few years.

We now have a cluster of hugely innovative smaller producers developing distinctively Northern Irish charcuterie such chorizo, salami, bresaola, lomo and brisket pastrami, cured meats on a par with the best from France, Italy and Spain.

While all the products have export potential, it is also essential that tourists are able to find such premium cured meats here being produced from the superb beef, pork and lamb from local farms. Such products offer the potential of a new revenue stream for our farmers because they tend to command premium prices. It would be great, therefore, to see locally cured meats being used by more chefs here to create deliciously different dishes.

Dale Farm, one of our biggest members, also gained a host of medals for its cheddar cheese in the World Cheese Awards at Nantwich.

There was further good news for Peter Hannan, a very supportive board member, in the enthusiastic endorsement of the outstanding quality of his beef from Cyrus Todiwala, the highly respected Indian gourmet chef, on BBC’s Saturday Kitchen last weekend. Cyrus is the chef/owner of the popular Café Spice Namaste in London and one of the most creative celebrity chefs. He made it clear Hannan’s location in Northern Ireland, providing another significant boost for the local food and drink industry.

The Great Taste Awards are immensely important in signalling the excellence of food and drink readily available here for local hospitality businesses, retailers and consumers. They also demonstrate to tourists and other visitors that Northern Ireland is a great destination for superb food and drink. Visitors spend around a third of their holiday budget on food and drink so, it’s essential that we market the outstanding food and drink here as widely as possible.

Successes in international and national competitions are visible evidence that our food and drink is among the world’s best.

This reputation will also be important as we look forward to the The Open at Royal Portrush next year. This will be another golden opportunity to highlight the quality of our food and drink to the many thousands of golf fans coming to watch the event. There’ll scarcely be a better opportunity to strengthen Northern Ireland’s position on the global stage as a great destination with wonderful food and drink.