To celebrate the NI Year of Food and Drink, an event dedicated to this month’s theme, Heritage & Traditions, took place in Belfast on Tuesday.
Hosted by Michele Shirlow from Tourism NI at James Street South Cookery School in the city, the event featured talks and demonstrations from local companies built on a foundation of generational values and tradition.
The producers exhibited and explained their success stories and shared anecdotes of their brand’s history.
Among them were Abernethy Butter, Punjana, Carnbrooke Meats and Whitewater Brewery, four companies spanning different areas within the NI food and drink industry.
A common theme for the event was the passion upon which each brand was built.
Ms Shirlow echoed this theme when she praised the producers’ “dedication and hard work” to their own brands and colleagues in the industry.
Will Abernethy, from Abernethy Butter, gave a live demonstration of how his company produces butter by retaining traditional methods.
Their produce, of which includes celebrity chef fans like Heston Blumenthal and Marcus Wareing, is used by restaurants across the UK, such as the Belfast-based Michelin starred restaurants, OX and Eipic.
Lindsay Skinner from Thompson Family Teas, which produced the well known Punjana brand, spoke of the third generation family-owned company’s 120 year heritage.
Explaining the owners David and Ross Thompson’s ethos of refusing to compromise on quality in favour of profit, Lindsay underlined the philosophy that makes Thompsons a leading Northern Ireland tea brand, and a major competitor worldwide.
Jason Hamilton from Carnbrooke Meats enthused about the importance of rare and native breeds to his company in terms of sourcing animals for farmers.
Their butchers cut every order to the customer’s specific preference, and even have a dry-ageing chamber so that customers can decide for themselves how long their meat is hung for.
He explained how the company are continually looking for new avenues of business and that recently, customers such as Michelin starred Deanes and OX, are requesting their specially sourced Mourne Lamb.
Kilkeel brewer, Bernard Sloan, from Whitewater Brewery, spoke of why using fresh water from the Mourne Mountains’ gives their products not only a unique selling point, but also taste.
Having grown to become one of Northern Ireland’s most sought after microbreweries, the Whitewater range is stocked among bars and restaurants across the country as well as supermarket giants such as Tesco and Asda.
David Gillmore, head chef of James Street South, gave a cookery demonstration, offering a modern twist on the traditional wheaten recipe using Whitewater’s stout brand, as well as preparing a delicious Seafood Fricassee.
Northern Ireland’s Year of Food and Drink continues throughout the year, with months dedicated to everything such as Brewing & Distilling (April) Love Dairy (June), Love NI Meat (August) and Bread and Baking (September).