Love Local is the theme for February


Article from Farmweek by Michele Shirlow

Love Local, the theme for February, the second month of Year of Food and Drink, which is now well underway, focuses on everything local including products for Valentine’s Day. If you happen to be thinking of a special treat for a loved one, such as chocolate, you’ll find tasty options locally from a host of successful and award winning artisan chocolatiers.

Many of the companies are Food NI members such as Blackthorn Foods in Belfast, Foster’s Chocolates in Craigavon, Saintfield’s Norr and Brown, Holywood’s La Coquine, the quirky Neary Nogs in Newry and Chocolate Manor in Coleraine. All produce superb handmade chocolates. You can count on these enterprising small businesses for chocolates that combine outstanding quality and taste with value for money.

They each offer a deliciously different range of lovingly handcrafted chocolates – from truffles to salted caramels even cheese and port – it works! Blackthorn create excellent fudge, a speciality also of Eleanor Craig’s in Ballycarry in Co. Antrim. They all have interesting stories to tell that add depth to their businesses. I urge you to try them, I am confident that you won’t be disappointed.

Look out this month for celebrations by Tayto who are celebrating their 60th year. It was a lovely surprise to arrive off the Gatwick Express in Victoria Station last week and to be greeted by a display of their iconic yellow packs of cheese and onion.

A key objective of Year of Food and Drink is to showcase the quality and innovation now underpinning the local industry and to encourage more people here to ‘love local’ when shopping.

I appreciate that it’s early days in the campaign – just a month in – but I was delighted to hear recently from several local food companies, including some very small enterprises, that business in January was better this year than the year before. I met a large number of local producers, both large and small, at a series of successful and inspirational events held during ‘Breakfast Month’ in January including the Food NI Year of Food and Drink launch at the Europa Hotel and Tourism NI workshop sessions throughout Northern Ireland.

There was a tremendous buzz at all the events and a great willingness to engage with the year-long campaign. From Enniskillen to the Armagh attendees produced some original ideas to get the message out about our great food and drink. It’s clear to me that Year of Food and Drink has caught the imagination of the industry and is winning support from the wider public here. It’s being recognised increasingly that our food and drink is fantastic and that consumers can boost the economy and employment here by investing in local produce.

The outstanding quality of our local food and drink was recognised recently during a very innovative event organised by Invest NI’s Food division. The business development agency brought a group of top notch chefs from Dubai here to visit local producers and to team up with a number of our talented chefs in a ‘Larder Challenge’ using the splendid culinary facilities at Belfast Metropolitan College. The chefs were challenged to create original dishes using local ingredients ranging from beef and venison to seafood and vegetables.

The goal of what proved to be an immensely successful ‘cook off’ was to introduce the chefs from the Emirates to quality local food and to encourage them to include these ingredients in their menus.

Working with them – and reinforcing the message about our food and drink – were local culinary pioneers such as Simon Dougan of Yellow Door in Portadown and Sean Owens of Montgomery Consulting in Aughnacloy. The end result was an outstanding buffet of highly original dishes that would not be out of place on the menus of five-star hotels in Dubai. I was also delighted that Invest NI invited a host of smaller companies to be present, to showcase their products and to meet the visiting chefs. It was a marvellous occasion and very innovative. It clearly demonstrated that is it easy to love local.