Portrush businessman Alastair Bell set out in 2017 with the bold ambition to provide “a new taste of Ireland” through the creation of the novel Irish Black Butter, a distinctively tasty sweet/savoury spread with Armagh Bramley Apples, a touch of brandy and a blend spices.
He’s now well on the way to achieving his ambition in terms of retail sales and especially in support from leading chefs and other
The spread was developed by Alastair in collaboration with prominent chef Paul Clarke, a winner of a host of UK Great Taste Awards, who switched from a successful career in major hotel kitchens to run his own business, En Place Foods, in Cookstown, that’s creating novel foods for the hospitality sector.
An extensive marketing campaign here, in Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland by Alastair led to significant retail business, a host of awards and endorsement from the BBC2’s Dragon’s Den panel. As a result of his endeavours, the spread is on sale throughout the UK, Ireland and is being exported to the US.
He’s also been invited to present jars of the spread to Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Alastair, wearing a battered stetson as an identifier, has travelled the length and breadth of the UK and Ireland, clocking up 40,000 miles in his car in one year, and taken part in a host of food shows to promote and sell the product.
Probably the most significant support for the spread as a genuinely new taste for Ireland has come from acclaimed chefs such as Michelin star Michael Deane, owner of Deane’s Restaurants and an early adopter of the spread; Alex Green, head chef at Deane’s Michelin EIPIC restaurant in Belfast; TV chef James Martin; and, most recently, Henderson Kitchen’s head chef, Carl Johannesson, who featured the spread in new roast chicken and ham bake under The Chef brand for sale in Spar and Eurospar stores here.
Carl explains: “I first tasted Irish Black Butter in 2017 and fell in love with its bold, sweet and rich flavour. There are two perfect ways to enjoy Irish Black Butter, in my opinion. Firstly, with a creamy Irish brie on a digestive biscuit and, secondly, as a glaze on a roast gammon. So with its ability to cut through and complement creamy foods, while also enriching the flavour of roast gammon, we have combined these
elements in The Chef’s roast chicken and ham bake for retail.”
The collaboration marked Henderson’s passion for local ingredients, working with suppliers from across the island to provide top quality products at value prices for local shoppers. To date, over 70 recipes for The Chef range have been developed and launched from the Henderson Kitchen bespoke built facilities in Co. Antrim.
Alastair was understandably delighted by Henderson’s invitation to work with them on the new retail dish. “It’s another tasty application of the spread which will highlight its flavours and versatility,” he says. “Featuring on the label also serves to increase awareness of the product among consumers especially in Northern Ireland.”
He joined the SPAR team at Balmoral Show where visitors were able to taste of the new dish.
“The feedback we received from those who visited our stand on the day was phenomenal. Local shoppers have a big appetite for something different, and when two local companies can collaborate and produce those products, something special always happens,” Alastair continues.
This collaboration followed the development for Aldi Ireland of a unique ham joint glazed with Irish Black Butter in partnership with Connolly Meats of Monaghan which proved an outstandingly successful product for last Christmas.
“Working with chefs at Connolly’s Meats was a tremendous experience that led to the ham being sold successfully in around 150 Aldi supermarkets across the Republic,” explains Alastair.
Chefs in hotels and restaurants across the island are now able to access the spread easily as the result of an agreement with La Rousse Foods in Dublin, a key supplier of quality food products to the hospitality industry. Sheridan’s in Dublin, Ireland’s biggest cheesemonger, is also marketing the spread as an ideal cheeseboard accompaniment.
A prominent chef in Scotland, Hugh McGivern, owner of a leading restaurant at Lossiemouth, created the first recipes showcasing the spread. Other recen supporters include the highly regarded Noel McMeel, executive head chef at the five-star Lough Erne Resort, the award winning Shu restaurant in Belfast and one of Donegal’s most respected restaurant in Dunfanaghy resort. It’s also been used as a flavour in Clandeboye Estate yoghurt, Bangor in Morelli’s Italian ice cream, Coleraine and shortbread biscuits from Heatherlea Bakery, another Bangor food business. Irish Black Butter is a remarkable success story of one man’s creativity and dedication to ensure the success of a novel local food product.