Armagh chef makes champion “taste sensation”

Experienced Armagh chef Paul Clarke has created a highly original food product which the leading judge in one of Britain’s most prestigious awards described as “a taste sensation”.

Saturday, 6th November 2021, 5:00 pm

John Gill, head of marketing and trading at Booth’s, one of Britain’s biggest supermarkets, chose Paul’s Pickled Gooseberries as Grand Champion in the influential Great British Food Awards.

The award winning product is the brainchild of Paul, managing director at Craic Foods in Craigavon, a small business that’s now one of Northern Ireland’s most innovative food development enterprises. It’s a venture, founded by Paul, who has held positions as the top chef in leading hotels in Ireland, and Peter Hannan of the multi-award winning Hannan Meats in Moira, his longstanding business partner, in 2017.

Gill, who has vast experience in consumer trends and tastes, said Craic’s winning product features gooseberries which are “plump, picked at perfect ripeness. Steeped and pickled in Bramley apple vinegar, honey, apple juice and elderflower with a sprinkle of sugar”.

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The winning taste sensation

He enthused: “The result is a perfectly balanced, great tasting product. The sharpness of the gooseberry is evident but beautifully complimented by the sweetness and complexity of the pickle. A wonderful addition to any cheeseboard or accompaniment to quality cooked meat; the gooseberries added an extra dimension on the side of roast pork dinner too. Craic pickled gooseberries will definitely impress guests at the dinner table.”

Paul described the accolade as “an exciting recognition of the latest edition to our range of innovative products which are designed for chefs and home cooks to add new and delicious flavours to dishes and also for use, for instance, on cheese boards”.

He continues: “While much of our business remains focused on professional chefs, we’ve been steadily expanding our range for home cooks seeking different flavours. We are delighted, of course, to be working again with so many excellent chefs here, in Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland in helping them to create delicious meals for diners and also to be playing our part in creative home cooking.”

While the Grand Champion title in the Great British Food Awards is probably the most significant accolade for Paul, Craig Foods also has an impressive track record of success in the UK Great Taste Awards, hosted by the highly influential Guild of Fine Food, and Blas na hEireann, the annual Irish National Food Awards.

Paul Clarke of Craic Foods in Craigavon, Grand British Champion

In addition to winning Grand Champion, Craic won the hotly contested category for Pickles with the same product.

The awards were launched in 2014 to celebrate the nation’s finest artisanal produce, as well as the hard-working people behind the scenes.

And Craic Foods wasn’t the only winning food from Northern Ireland in the high profile awards. The other Northern Ireland winners were: Burren Balsamics of Richhill, Co Armagh for its Black Garlic Infused Vinegar of Modena, which the judge, Henry Chevalier-Guild of Aspinall’s Cyder and Vinegar, said is “a wonderful vinegar”.

He explains: “Infused balsamics can sometimes flatter to deceive, but Burren Balsamic’s black garlic infused balsamic delivers on every level. It has a pronounced aroma of black garlic that has enticingly rich caramelised notes to it. This continues on the palate where it packs a mighty punch but without being overpowering. It is delightfully intense with great balance and a seductive finish. Makes a fabulous dressing.”

Burren Balsamics, which was also highly commended for raspberry infused balsamic vinegar, was established in 2014 by chef Susie Hamilton Stubber who now is now assisted in creating new products by Bob McDonald, another widely experienced development chef.

The Northern Ireland Regional Award was won by Irish Black Butter of Portrush, Co Antrim, a small business formed by entrepreneur Alastair Bell. The judge, Adrian Boswell, senior buyer at Selfridges, London’s most iconic department store, loved “the almost caramel flavour of the apples in this condiment”: “It is rich, warmly spiced and has a touch of acidity. What I love about this condiment is that it can clearly be used to accompany things like cheese and cured meats, as well as being great in both savoury and sweet applications.”

Clandeboye Estate’s Greek Style Yoghurt was highly commended in the Dairy category for its Greek-style luxury yoghurt by Tom Rhodes, Masterchef winner in 2021. Based in Bangor, Co Down, Clandeboye is Northern Ireland’s only yoghurt producer. It sources milk for the estate’s own pedigree and award winning herd.

The judge said the Clandeboye luxury product was “rich and creamy as Greek style yoghurt should be, you can tell that the thickness of this yoghurt is all natural. This one also has a pleasing and refreshing tartness, which helps to balance out the richness of it.”

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