Northern Ireland is known for the beauty and unspoilt nature of its lands, for its great visitor attractions, rich cultural heritage and for the warmth of its people, but a tasty fact that can sometimes be overlooked is the huge variety of food on offer that makes it a great place for a food lovers’ short break.
The Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB) has listed some of each county’s food-related connections including delicious restaurants, farmers markets, quality cookery schools and food and drink festivals that will leave your taste buds wanting more, explained Ruth Burns, NITBs Marketing and PR Manager.
“Northern Ireland’s unique bio-diversity means we have the perfect conditions for rearing healthy livestock and growing delicious produce that has a distinctive, Northern Ireland flavour. We are famous for our great breads, cheeses, drink and have our fair share of talented cooks, quality cookery schools, restaurants and locally produced goods that we all find irresistible.
“From Cuan Oysters to Finnebrogue Venison and from Lough Neagh Eels to Glenarm Salmon, some of our produce is slowly but surely becoming recognised as best in class. Well known Northern Ireland chefs like Michael Dean, Paul Rankin and Niall McKenna have also helped to spread the word about our superb local food and drink”, concluded Ruth.
County Antrim is famous for Dulse and Yellow Man and these wonderful local flavours can be enjoyed at hundreds of great pubs and top restaurants including Ox in Belfast and Square Bistro in Lisburn.
The county has wonderful cookery schools like the Belfast Cookery School, Hillmount BBQ Academy, Ballymiscaw Cookery School and James Street South Cookery School where you can learn everything from pasta making to cupcake classes for the kids. There are many farm shops stocking mouth watering produce like Mulholland’s and Michel’s Fruit & Veg in Belfast and Ballylagan Organic Farm Shop in Ballyclare.
One of the best ways to experience authentic Northern Irish speciality foods is to visit one of the farmer’s markets that take place all over the province including St Georges Market in Belfast and the Templepatrick Farmers Market at Colmans Garden Centre which takes place on the last Sunday of every month.
Causeway Cheese Company, Glens of Antrim Potatoes and Corgy House Preserves are some of the delicious locally produced foods.
County Antrim is also known the world over as the birthplace, 400 years ago, of Bushmills Whiskey, and today people can take a tour of the distillery and sample the amber nectar. The Bushmills Salmon & Whiskey Festival takes place from September 19 – 21and boasts a full programme of events including culinary displays, market stalls, family entertainment and a stunning fireworks display
Other food and drink highlights include Ireland’s oldest traditional market fair, the The Auld Lammas Fair, August 25 – 26 in Ballycastle, where you can sample local specialities, Dulse, a dried edible seaweed, and the deliciously sweet chewy Yellow Man, made from a closely guarded secret recipe.
The Hilden Beer Festival, August 22 – 24, has more than 30 international beers, great food and a family day to keep everyone entertained. The Autumn Fair, September 20 – 21, takes place in Belfast’s Botanic Gardens and is a weekend of food and family fun with an array of live music, children’s entertainment and autumn flower show exhibitions.
Larne Loves Food festival on September 27 will feature food demonstrations by chefs from Taste of Ulster and the ‘Focus on Food’ Stall with samples from local food retailers as well as great family entertainment.
Belfast Restaurant Week, returns in October 2013 for the second year when the city’s top restaurants come together to celebrate the richness and diversity of the city’s food. With special menus, promotions and competitions throughout the week, there will be something for everyone.
You can sample local speciality, black bacon at chic cafe, Frou Frou in Enniskillen or enjoy an island escape on Lusty Beg where a warm Fermanagh welcome, great food and stunning views await.
The Belle Isle Cookery School on the magnificent Belle Isle Estate on Lough Erne or the Orchard Acre Farm in Irvinestown are perfect places in which to unwind as you learn how to cook using locally farmed meat and produce. They have fun classes that suit every level of cook from the novice to the very experienced.
A great place to find locally grown food is at Gillen’s Greengrocers in Enniskillen and for a seriously creamy treat try Tickety Moo Ice-cream which is produced in Irvinestown.
Browns Restaurant and Champagne Lounge in the City of Derry and Gardiners Restaurant in Magherafelt are just two of the myriad of excellent eateries available in the county.
There are numerous farmers markets including the Culdrum Organic Farm in Aghadowey, Moss Brook Farm Shoppe in Desertmartin, Arkhill Farm Shop in Garvagh and Keady Mountain Farm in Limavady.
Food lovers will enjoy a day at My Little Kitchen Cookery School located in a beautiful and tranquil setting on a family farm overlooking Lough Foyle.
Hunter’s at the Oven Door located in Ballykelly, Coleraine and Limavady are great places for baked goods and butchers Norman Hunter & Son in Limavady and McKee’s in Maghera offer choice and quality meats fit for the most special of family occasions.
Finnebrogue Venison, said to be the best venison meat in the world, and the humble Comber potato all hail from County Down. The county is also famous for Cuan Oysters from Sketrick Island, Dundrum Bay Oyster Fishery in Dundrum, Mash Direct from Comber and Glastry Farm Ice Cream which is made in Newtownards.
It is also home to two Mourne Seafood Cookery Schools, one in Kilkeel and the other in Newry, as well as the wonderfully named Orange Tree House in Newtownards where you can learn to cook the perfect three course meal or winning fish dishes.
The county abounds with farm shops including Homegrown in Newtownards, McKee’s Farm Shop in Newtownards, Camphill Organic Farm Shop & Bakery in Holywood, Helen’s Bay Organic Farm in Helen’s Bay and Lurganconary Organic Farm in Kilkeel.
Foodies flock to popular eateries like the Salty Dog in Bangor, The Parsons Nose in Hillsborough and The Cuan Restaurant in Strangford where they enjoy locally sourced food cooked to perfection.
There are many food related events including the Festival of Fish, August 22 – 25, which takes place in the four fishing villages of Kilkeel, Annalong, Ardglass and Portavogie in a celebration of seafood. The seafood theme continues with the Hillsborough International Oyster Festival, September 2 – 7, held in the historic village of Hillsborough, the festival features local food and light hearted events such as the World Oyster Eating Championships.
The Hans Sloane Chocolate and Fine Food Festival, September 19 – 21 in Killyleagh feature a selection of the finest food producers from County Down and many of the best Chocolatiers from Ireland will be participating at the event.
Armagh, known as the ‘Orchard County’, has a history of apple growing dating back 3000 years. Saint Patrick planted an apple tree at Ceangoba, an ancient settlement east of the city and today more than 4000 acres of Armagh are covered by apple trees.
There are many popular places for dinner and lunch including The Planters Tavern in Waringstown, The Yellow Door Deli in Portadown, The Moody Boar in Armagh and the Famous Grouse Restaurant in Loughgall, to name a few, where you can experience local produce cooked with skill.
It is also home to Tayto Castle where some of the world’s best loved crisps and snacks have been made since 1956. You can go on a tour of the Castle and experience first-hand how these famous crisps and snacks are made, sample the various flavours and even meet the brand mascot, Mr Tayto.
Rathcarbery Cookery School has classes for kids and adults teaching everything from tray bakes to a course that helps those with a family member or friend on a special diet prepare suitable food.
County Tyrone has many fine options for eating out including Otter Lodge in Cookstown, Kelly’s Inn in Ballygawley and Oysters Restaurant in Strabane.
Grange Lodge Guesthouse, set in 20 acres with over 3 acres of well manicured gardens, is owned by Ralph and Norah Brown and has become well known for its ‘Cook with Norah’ cookery sessions when Norah has the opportunity to pass on some of her skills and knowledge.
No trip to Tyrone would be complete without a visit to the Cloughbane Farm Shop in Dungannon and Tyrone Farmers Market, held on the first Saturday of every month, and Strabane Farmer’s Market, held on the last Saturday of every month.
Apple Day at Peatlands Park, Dungannon, September, 28 is a chance for everyone to celebrate the humble apple and its wonderful diversity. There will be apple crafts, cooking and all manner of apple products and produce for sale including free rides on the ‘Orchard Express’ train, and much more for the whole family to enjoy.