WITH some of Northern Ireland’s best food and drink events set to take place over the next few months, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB) is urging food lovers to prepare their taste buds and follow the scent of fine food.
Food has always been a key ingredient of Northern Ireland’s identity with its strong agricultural traditions, but in recent years local produce has been gaining international recognition for sensational seafood, delectable dairy products, indigenous breads, bumper vegetable crops and high quality meats.
NITB’s Culture & Heritage Officer, Julie McLaughlin commented that the array of events taking place over the next few months offers great opportunities to sample some of Northern Ireland’s culinary delights.
“Our food has gained a world-renowned reputation in recent years with a number of accolades being awarded to local producers, most recently the Great Taste Awards, putting us firmly on the culinary map. Comber Potatoes, Lough Neagh Eels and Armagh Bramley Apples have all been granted Protected Geographic Indication (PGI) status under European Law, joining the elite ranks of food products such as Parma Ham and Champagne.”
“As well as this, McCartney’s of Moira was named the UK Supreme Food Champion for its handmade corned beef, the first time the award has been won by a Northern Ireland company, while Strangford Lough’s Cuan Oysters were named the best in the world by The Observer’s Killian Fox,” she said.
“Food festivals provide great opportunities to taste some of the wonderful local produce on offer as well as experiencing the skills of our talented chefs, all while enjoying packed programmes of fun and entertainment,” she added.
With everything from an oyster eating contest to a Chocolate Festival taking place over the coming weeks in Northern Ireland, there’s bound to be something to suit everyone’s tastes from this list of tasty food and drink events;
The Kilkeel Fish Fest takes place August 24 – 27 and offers a carnival atmosphere for all the family while boasting a seafood buffet, numerous food and fresh fish stalls, cookery demonstrations, children’s entertainment and oyster eating competitions.
Ireland’s oldest traditional market fair, the Auld Lammas Fair, runs on August 27 and 28 in the traditional setting of Ballycastle, Co. Antrim, usually attracting thousands of visitors. As well as street entertainment, horse trading and market stalls, revellers can sample local specialties such as dulse (dried edible seaweed) and the famous and deliciously sweet chewy indigenous confectionary known as Yellow Man.
Now in its 20th year, the Hillsborough International Oyster Festival has put the historic village of Hillsborough firmly on the culinary map. Taking place from September 6 – 9 the festival attracts crowds of approximately 14,000 people with visitors from across the world. The event famously hosts the World Oyster Eating Championships, with other entertainment and competitions running throughout the weekend including a family fun day, the Miss Oyster Pearl beauty pageant, a live concert and BBQ and of course the famous Gourmet Food Market where fine locally-produced food and drink is available in the Festival Marquee.
The Bushmills Salmon & Whiskey Festival, the first of its kind, takes place on September 22 in the famous Co. Antrim town and boasts a full programme of events. Included in the day’s line-up are culinary displays, stage performances, market stalls, history talks and tours, family entertainment, fancy dress, traditional games and community competitions as well as a stunning fireworks display.
For those with a sweet tooth the Hans Sloane Chocolate and Fine Food Festival makes the perfect day out. The festival takes place in the grounds of Killyleagh Castle, Co. Down, on Sunday September 23 and will be jam-packed with fun and fine food including a marquee filled with a selection of the finest chocolatiers from across Ireland. It’s not all about chocolate though as the event will include the NITB Signature Kitchen where local chefs will delight and entertain as they cook up various dishes with a focus on fine local produce allowing visitors to pick up tips and recipes from the experts. Visitors can also browse the many stalls and taste, nibble and buy an array of goods. Activities for children include a Circus Skills School and a chocolate themed W5 stage show.
On the Causeway Coast, Larne Loves Food will take place on Saturday September 24. Visitors are invited to come along and enjoy food demonstrations by chefs from Taste of Ulster and the ‘Focus on Food’ stalls with samples from local food retailers and producers as well as family entertainment.
Set your taste buds alight at the fantastic two-day Taste of Tyrone Food Festival on September 29 and 30. Forty local food producers will be laying out their wares with taste kitchens and cookery demonstrations. Visitors will experience a range of food crafts including butter churning and apple pressing. This Dungannon based food event will also boast kids fun activities and live music.
Meanwhile on the shores of Strangford Lough, Food Glorious Food will take place at the National Trust’s Mount Stewart property on September 29 where food lovers can taste, talk and buy a range of produce directly from producers. There will also be live music and autumnal themed children’s craft sessions.
Back in Belfast, for those wishing to find out about the stories behind Northern Ireland food, the Belfast Bred Tour is ideal. This theatrical walking tour is led by ‘Barney’, a chef from RMS Titanic, who has been restored to life following the melting of the iceberg in which he was frozen solid! Barney takes the tour group on an ingredient hunt in contemporary Belfast in a bid to recreate the famous ship’s menu. Along the way Barney will introduce the very best of local produce, meeting and talking with local chefs and weaving Belfast‘s history into the tour. Skip breakfast and meet Barney at 10.15am outside Sawyers Deli to begin the tour which departs every Friday and Saturday until September 30.
In addition to the scheduled tours the new Belfast Bred iPhone App enables visitors to take a self guided tour outside of the scheduled times, however following along with Barney means visitors get the full experience with all the tastings along the way!
The first ever Belfast Restaurant Week runs from October 6 – 13 and will see the city’s top restaurants coming together to celebrate the richness and diversity of the city’s food, from the farm to the fork, with special menus, promotions and competitions throughout the week. There will also be special events taking place in St George’s Market on Saturday October 6 and Saturday October 13. Whether you are a discerning gourmet or wishing to try a new dining experience for the first time, there will be something for everyone.
For further information on local produce and events taking place in Northern Ireland click on www.discovernorthernireland.com or visit your local tourist information centre. You can also keep up-to-date with the latest news, images, videos and competitions by visiting http://www.facebook.com/discovernorthernireland.