Susie’s drive to zero-waste proves a winner for Armagh food business

Burren Balsamics with Susie Hamilton and chef Bob McDonald at their facility in County Armagh
Burren Balsamics with Susie Hamilton and chef Bob McDonald at their facility in County Armagh
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Experienced chef Susie Hamilton Stubber has come up with a profitable and delicious solution to leftover fruit, vegetables, herbs and spices from her successful business producing award winning fruit infused vinegars.

Susie and her development chef Bob McDonald of Burren Balsamics at Richhill, Co Armagh, are on the final stage of a journey to zero waste which has seen them turn leftovers into a range of novel food products for their company as well as another local artisan producer.

Burren Balsamics has a successful track record in the creation of balsamic vinegars infused with natural fruits used to add deliciously different flavours to meals.

“It makes sense to us to use up the leftovers in the production of a range of handmade jams and chutneys,” Susie explains. “They are high-quality ingredients, taste amazing and we love experimenting so it’s a no brainer! Most of the leftovers from our vinegar process are wholesome and come from locally sourced fruit. We have long been committed to waste elimination and measures to reduce our impact on the local environment in particular.

“Diversifying into another novel and rtisan product range has also enabled us to grow our overall business.”

And it’s also a strategic focus that’s adding to the company’s bottomline.

“We are seeing existing and potential new customers placing orders because of the strength of our commitment to zero waste and ethical production,” Susie continues.

The move has also been influenced by another artisan business in Armagh, she explains, and is “another excellent example of the developing collaboration between smaller companies in the Food Heartlands area within the Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon council area”.

“Ballylisk Cheese, which is based on a family farm in Tandragee and makes triple crème cheeses with their own milk from its pedigree dairy herd, wanted a chutney using the iconic EU protected status (PGI) of Armagh Bramley apples. We came up with a solution for them and, of course, more of our waste. One of our best sellers is our Armagh Bramley Apple Balsamic vinegar. It won Gold at Blas na hEireann, the Irish National Food Awards, as well as two gold stars in the Great Taste Awards and Best Use of a PGI product at the Food Heartland Awards,” says Susie. “Bob and I worked on making a balsamic apple chutney for Ballylisk which would really complement the creaminess of the unique cheese being produced by Dean Wright, founder of the cheese business. And It’s selling really well.”

The success of the chutney for Ballylisk encouraged Susie and Bob to develop other products from the vinegar process waste including a marmalade using delicious ingredients such as blood orange and cardamom.

The third product so far in the zero waste range is an onion jam which uses the onions left over from the two star Great Taste Award winning roast onion black balsamic vinegar which is an ideal accompaniment with artisan cheese such as Ballylisk. And with other flavours such as blackberry and thyme, black garlic and Irish cherry, it will only be a matter of time before more products hit the shelves here, in Britain and the Republic of Ireland. Burren Balsamics is one of the most successful artisan food producers in terms of sales outside Northern Ireland.

Underpinning the growth in exports is the company’s extensive investment in time and other resources in marketing activities at a series of trade shows abroad.

She continues: “Taking part in major food shows especially in Britain is the only way to ensure the growth of our business in both short and long terms. So, we’ve been on the road regularly over the past three years, raising our profile, making business contacts and growing sales. As a result, most of our business is now outside Northern Ireland. We’ve many excellent customers in both retail and foodservice and other important deals in the pipeline.”

Burren Balsamics, a Food NI member, was established by Susie, an accomplished chef with vast catering experience in Britain, in 2014. The enterprise began life as an initiative to raise funds for a local charity at Christmas the year before. The popularity of the vinegars at the event encouraged Susie to explore market opportunities for a locally produced balsamic vinegar.

She concludes. “We’ve such a variety of premium fruits, such as Bramley apples, raspberries, blackberries, blackcurrants, blueberries and strawberries, that it made sense to use these to create fruit-infused balsamics here for adding distinctive and wholesome flavours to meals. We’ve come so far in a few years, but we must continue to look for further and sustainable growth. There’s no room for complacency in business.”