Great things are happening in food and drink in Northern Ireland and in 2016 the menu is going to be mouth-watering for foodies everywhere.
With two Belfast restaurants – Ox and Eipic – recently bagging Michelin stars, the country’s artisan food and drink producers are reaping international renown from food critics and the media.
With record breaking performances at the UK Great Taste Awards year on year, Northern Ireland is something of a best kept foodie secret.
But not for long – 2016 has been designated a Year of Food and Drink. There’s going to be a big celebration of all that is good about the top notch local produce. And the world is invited.
It’s a leap year. So that means 366 days of opportunities to taste, munch and quaff your way through 12 specially selected themes for each month of the year. There’ll be special foodie events, festivals, money-off deals, pop-up restaurants, tastings and tours galore.
It all starts with ‘breakfast’ in January (ah, the famous Ulster fry) and ends in December with ‘Christmas and premium foods’. In between there’s everything from ‘love meat’ to ‘brewing and distilling’ to ‘heritage and traditions’.
Northern Ireland’s epic landscapes, traditions and people make its food heritage very unique. Thanks to its wild coastline, endless green fields and famously fickle weather, the country produces some of the world’s finest and freshest ingredients – from fabulous seafood to rare meats and iconic breads, organic vegetables, artisan cheeses, premium spirits and craft beers.
Three of its home-grown foods hold EU Protected Geographic Indication (PGI) status – Lough Neagh Eels, Armagh Bramley Apples and Comber Early Potatoes – putting them on a par with the likes of Parmesan cheese and Champagne.
And there’s more, Shortcross Gin from County Down recently scooped a silver medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, Glenarm Organic Salmon is lined up on shelves in Harvey Nichols and Abernethy Butter is the darling of London’s Michelin-starred chefs.
From a Game of Thrones Afternoon Tea at Ballygally Castle Hotel in the heart of ‘Thrones’ country in County Antrim to the Titanic Menu at Rayanne House on the edge of Belfast Lough, the local food reflects local stories.
But there will be many more local tastes and exciting menus crammed with creativity and foodie sensations all through 2016.
Northern Ireland food is so good. Be shrewd, you’d be mad if you eschewed it.