Local food heroes are being challenged to step up to the plate by entering the national Delicious Produce Awards which annually honour the best in small- to medium-scale, artisan-produced food and drink.
Specialist food businesses in County Down have already demonstrated their strength in the prestigious Delicious awards. Last year three of the four finalists were locals; Clandeboye Estate Yoghurt Company in Bangor was recognised for its Clandeboye Estate Greek Style Yoghurt; Krazi Baker from Dromore for its Guanciale Potato Bread and Cinnamon Soda Farl Whiskey Soaked Sultanas and Mash Direct, Comber, for its innovative Crispy Vegetable Bakes. The fourth finalist was Cavanagh Free-Range Eggs Ltd from Enniskillen.
This year top chefs, food & drink writers and culinary experts will judge nine categories in nine regional heats across the UK, with the Northern Ireland heat set to delight food fans at the annual Irish Game Fair at Shanes Castle, Antrim, on Saturday 23 and Sunday 24 June. The regional heat, held in the award-winning Fisher & Paykel home appliance kitchen, will be overseen by chef, broadcaster, cookery teacher and champion of small producers, Valentina Harris.
Albert Titterington, Director of Great Game Fairs of Ireland, itself based in County Down, sees the new partnership as an important, and potentially profitable, ‘shop window’ for Northern Ireland businesses.
He says, “We have always championed great local food producers at the Irish Game Fair at Shanes Castle. This year, we will be marking our fortieth Fair anniversary with the largest Irish Game Fair ever as, for this very special year only, we have combined our ROI and NI fairs into one potentially huge all-Ireland extravaganza, and we will be putting land and larder centre-stage.
“Our ambitious Fine Foods element, led by celebrity chef Emmett McCourt, will be massively enhanced and the public at Shanes Castle can expect some terrific new tastes and sensational sampling … demonstrating natural quality that, to my mind, is beyond compare.
“Our focus on home grown and home produced excellence sits very happily with the ethos of the fair: that of promoting and defending the best of Irish rural life.
Inviting still more local companies to get involved, Albert Titterington added: “Food and drink exhibitors always do great business with around 25,000 Fair-goers visiting Shanes Castle over two days and, in our anniversary year, they should do even better!
“The Delicious Produce Awards will bring an exciting extra dimension as our new partnership with Delicious opens the door to still wider audiences and important new commercial opportunities at the Game Fair.
“I have total confidence in the quality and heritage of the food and drink produced right here in Northern Ireland and I hope that local producers will have the confidence to pit their produce against the best in the country.”
Looking forward to the 2018 event, which last year attracted more than a thousand entries, Delicious Editor Karen Barnes says: “Delicious magazine is delighted to be bringing our produce awards regional judging to Irish Game Fair show. Delicious magazine has a huge, loyal following of food-loving fans and we wanted to launch awards that build on our heritage as a publication dedicated to great-tasting food. We want to celebrate producers and artisans who are committed to quality and heritage. We aim to give a voice to the quiet heroes of the food world – the protectors of provenance and shepherds of sustainability.
“We know Northern Ireland has a huge number of producers who should be praised and rewarded for the work they do and exposed to a much wider audience. We hope that, through our awards, social media activity and winners’ publicity we can help them continue their valuable work and grow their businesses.”
The search to find the country’s finest produce from land and sea, dairy and field, has now officially started, with producers encouraged to enter online at deliciousmagazine.co.uk/produceawards until 16 April. Members of the public can also can nominate their favourite producers. All Delicious readers who nominate producers will be entered into a prize draw to win a fantastic Fisher & Paykel 90cm freestanding cooker worth £1,300.
The Awards, run in association with home appliance company Fisher & Paykel, seek to identify and honour dedicated and skilful producers who grow, rear or manufacture products they are proud of, with a firm focus on quality and sustainability. The 2018 Awards feature nine categories, including a new drinks category (soft and alcoholic).
The Game Fair is suported by TourismNI and Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council.