NI Celebrates Success At Golden Fork Dinner

Column by Michele Shirlow for Farm Week (14 September)

Three Golden Forks for Northern Ireland is this year’s Great Taste Awards is a very good haul by any measure. While we didn’t secure the Supreme Champion title at the gala dinner in London hosted by the highly influential UK Guild of Fine, the championship was still retained on the island of Ireland, an achievement that speaks volume for the quality and providence of our meat in particular and the innovation of the butchers who are continually coming up with outstandingly tasty new products.

Our own Peter Hannan of Hannan Meats, a Food NI director and long-time supporter of our aims and especially of our engagement in the British marketplace, gained the Northern Ireland Regional Golden Fork from Invest NI for his stunning sweet cure bacon rack. He came close to the top award and also achieved three gold stars for his Glenarm salt-aged lamb rump, appropriately during Love Lamb Week.

Hannan, as most readers of this column, will be aware is now the most decorated company from the UK and Ireland in the Great Taste, winning the Supreme Champion title on two separate occasions, in 2012 and 2016 and collecting over 200 separate gold stars for his meats.

Another local meat producer, Ispini Charcuterie, from a family farm at Aughnacloy, won the Best Charcuterie in the UK award for its unique rosemary and thyme bresaola – just eight months after the formation of the business by pig farmer Jonny Cuddy and sister Janice. Charcuterie is a target growth area being promoted by the UK Guild of Fine Food, and for Ispini to win this Golden Fork is a truly remarkable achievement.

Our good friends and dedicated butter makers Will and Allison of Abernethy Butter in Dromara deservedly earned the VIP Golden Fork organised by Woman and Home magazine in a vote by its readership. To be selected by readers of the magazine, most of who are based in Britain, is another stunning achievement for a small local business.

So, well done all the Northern Ireland winners including Davy and Janet Uprichard of Tempted Cider in Lisburn whose elderflower cider was listed in the Top 50 Foods along with Peter Hannan’s sweet cure bacon and Glenarm lamb.

Also remarkable is the Irish dominance, especially meat producers, in the Great Taste Supreme Champion Award. Only once since 2011 has this coveted award gone outside Ireland. We’ve won it an impressive three times since 2011 – George McCartney of McCartney’s Meats, Moira in 2011, Peter Hannan in 2012 and 2016 and two producers from the Republic – Pat Whelan of James Whelan Butchers in Clonmel in 2015 for his beef dripping and Hugh Maguire of Maguire’s Meats of Ashbourne, Co. Meath for his smoked black pudding in 2017.

Last week was, in fact, the third consecutive year a meat product was named the Supreme Champion at the Great Taste Awards – all from the island of Ireland.

Some 12,366 products entered into the awards. The smoked black pudding was one of over 100 smoked products that picked up Great Taste Awards. So, there’s clearly a developing trend towards hand smoked foods. Smoked eel from Lough Neagh also did exceptionally well, picking up three gold stars.

What the Great Taste achievements demonstrate is the growing awareness in Britain of Northern Ireland’s premium quality food and drink. In particular, the success of Abernethy Butter in the public vote organised by Women and Home magazine, which includes an excellent food section edited by Jane Curran, shows how a strategic focus on Great Britain can pay off in terms of consumer recognition and business.

Peter Hannan already has significant business there, and the success of Ispini ought to encourage this smaller business to target this market. There will be many wishing to taste a product rated the Best Charcuterie in Britain.

Food NI has taken this message to Britain by our participation in last week’s Speciality and Fine Food Fair. We had hundreds of original products on show from almost 30 producers. Our aim will be to do as much as our resources allow to build on the market profile of our food in Britain.