Raise a glass to our winning ciders

Northern Ireland artisan companies enjoyed their best ever year in the latest Blas n hEireann, the Irish National Food Awards, which are held annually in Dingle, Co. Kerry as an integral part of the hugely successful week-long food and drink festival in the picturesque village.

While Northern Ireland companies won more awards than ever before in the nine years of the event, which was launched by Kerry-based businessman and devoted foodie Arty Clifford and which he continues to lead with great enthusiasm and dedication, it was the cider makers who came out on top. Their success at Dingle strengthens Northern Ireland’s reputation as the leading cider region on the island.

Arty Clifford, Blas na hEireann founder, adds: “It’s been a tremendous year for Northern Ireland, the best to date. The region has a great track record of success in the awards, and I hope that the achievements this year will encourage a great many more to enter products in 2017, the 10th anniversary of the launch of the all-Ireland awards.”

The Blas success follows a month after Northern Irish cider makers swept the boards in the cider category in the highly influential Irish Quality Food and Drink Awards (IQFA) in Dublin.

At Blas, two local cider companies – Tempted? from Lisburn and Craigavon’s Mac Ivors – shared the Best Artisan Award sponsored by Bord Bia, the Republic of Ireland’s food body. It was the first time that this award was shared in the competition and the only major award for Northern Ireland.

The two companies also shared the Best New Product Award – Tempted? for its recently launched Elderflower Cider and Mac Ivors for Plum and Ginger cider. Northern Ireland’s reputation as Ireland’s most successful region for cider was further demonstrated by a gold award for Armagh Cider Company’s Doyle’s Summer Fruit. And Loughgall’s Long Meadow gained silver for its Blossom Burst cider.

Tempted and Mac Ivors also shared the Best in Ulster Award. Tempted gained a prestigious platinum award in IQFA last month.

Davy Uprichard, founder of Tempted? Cider in 2009, says success in Dingle will eileenhelp the small business as it seeks to boost sales particularly in the Republic of Ireland. “Blas has an influence on retail buyers and has increased awareness of our range of ciders in the Republic, a market we are keen to grow sales. We’ve also gained a new business partner, Quintessential Brands in Dublin, one of the most dynamic and successful in Republic in the spirits, beers and cider’s category and this has been a major boost for us.”

The outstanding quality and flavours of Northern Ireland cider, mostly produced from Armagh Bramley apples, have won acclaim from top cider experts such as Pete Brown in Britain.

He says that what sets most Northern Ireland cider makers apart is their focus on using 100% pure apple juice. In many other regions, including Somerset and Devon, cider is produced from concentrates.

Overall, 20 major awards including almost 17 golds were won by Northern Ireland companies, mostly artisan enterprises, and including Cavanagh Free-Range Eggs of Newtownbutler in Co. Fermanagh. Cavanagh was voted the Chefs’ Larder Choice by a panel of expert judges including chefs, retailers and food writers.

Michele Shirlow, Food NI chief executive and Farm Week columnist, congratulated the Northern Ireland companies on their success, saying: “It’s great to see so many of our companies, particularly smaller enterprises, winning major awards along with gold, silver and bronze medals in what is now the island of Ireland’s biggest and most respected awards, which will open the door to greater business success with retailers.”

Several Northern Ireland companies were represented at the prestigious event including Lisburn’s Passion Preserved, Made with Love from Donaghadee, Tempted Cider?, Neary Nogs Chocolates from Newry, Cavanagh Free-Range Eggs of Newtownbutler, Kennedy Bacon, Omagh, Burren Balsamics, and Glastry Farm Ice Cream of Kircubbin. Harnett’s Oils from Waringstown had a stand in the busy festival market. They were supported by celebrity chef Paula McIntyre.

Almost 3,000 products were entered by food and drink companies from Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland for blind tasting by a panel of expert judges including chefs, food writers, retailers, business people and academics. Over 40 awards were won by Northern Ireland food and drink companies.

Northern Ireland’s golden stars at Dingle

Armagh Cider Company, Craigavon for Doyle’s Summer Fruit Cider;
Burren Balsamics, Richill, county Armagh for Bramley Apple Infused Balsamic Vinegar;
Clandeboye Estate Yoghurt, Bangor, Greek Style Yoghurt;
Corn Dolly Bakery, Newry, county Down for Large Floury Baps and Rich Fruit Cake
Donnybrewer Butter, Eglinton, county Derry for Garlic and Chive Butter;
Erin Grove Preserves, Enniskillen, county Fermanagh for Sour Cherry and Cracked Black Pepper Fruit for Cheese;
Glastry Farm Ice Cream, Kircubbin, county Down for Apple Schnaps Sorbet;
Gourmet Marshmallows, Coleraine, county Derry for Lemon Meringue Marshmallow;
McErlain’s Bakery, Magherafelt, county Derry for SuperValu and Centra Sean Brown’s Soda
Orchard Organics Portadown, county Armagh for Organic Raspberry Jam;
Papas Minerals, Bangor, county Down for Traditional Clover Cordia
Pop Notch, Dungiven, county Derry for Spar Select Sweet chill, Caramel and Lime Popcorn and Spar Select Butter Popcorn;
Quinn’s Gelato, Cookstown, county Tyrone for Hazelnut Gelato
Western Brand Poultry, Lisnaskea, county Fermanagh for Garlic and Herb Spatchcock Chicken; and
White’s Oats, Tandragee, county Armagh for Aldi Kavanagh’s Porridge Oats in Golden Syrup

Cavanagh Free-Range Eggs from Newtownbutler, county Fermanagh was also named as The Chef’s Larder Choice.

In addition, Northern Ireland companies collected 13 silver and a similar number of bronze awards.