Economusee movement showcases best in artisan goods and produce

BBC Good Food Magazine May issue. Successful Meringues Martin Brigdale.
BBC Good Food Magazine May issue. Successful Meringues Martin Brigdale.

The Economusee movement originated in Quebec in Canada in 1992.

An Economusee is first and foremost an enterprise that operates in the field of fine crafts or the agri-food sector and uses authentic know-how in the production of commodities.

It allows artisans to showcase their trades and enables them to open their workshops to the public so they can share their knowledge and passion and sell products made on the premises.

Since its inception there are over a hundred crafts people involved from British Columbia to Sweden. In Northern Ireland established members Steenson Jewellers in Glenarm, Scullion Hurls in Loughgiel, Broighter Gold rapeseed oil in Limavady, Hillstown Brewers in Ahoghill, Broughgammon Farm and Ursa Minor bakers both in Ballycastle have recently been joined by North Coast Smokehouse, also based in Ballycastle. Last Saturday I was honoured to be asked to launch this latest Economusee by Causeway Coast and Glens Heritage Trust, who take care of the businesses involved in the movement.

The smokehouse is operated by Ruairidh Morrison and his wife Melanie Brown. Ruairidh is originally from the island of Islay and Melanie is from Ballycastle. They met in New Zealand where Ruairidh worked in fish health for the country’s Animal Health Laboratories.

I first met Ruairidh in 2014 at a Food and Craft Fair in Portstewart Town Hall. I bought some of his smoked salmon, tried it and loved it and went to buy more. At this stage he’d sold out and that’s been a pattern ever since. It’s snapped up early so if you see it buy it when you can. The salmon is brined first then hot smoked. The fish itself looks like a perfect piece of burnished bronze and has a moist, perfectly cooked texture with just the right amount of smoke. He also smokes salt and pepper and Melanie suggested he should try and smoke some local dulse. The seaweed is smoked and dehydrated so it’s like a fine powder. It’s delicious used as a seasoning for fish, mixed with oil as a dressing for salads or to dip bread and also works well with grilled lamb and vegetables. For me this product is the very essence of new Northern Irish food – an established food, steeped in our heritage, that’s been modernised by smoking. I bring a tube of it wherever I go and people love it.

His smoked salt takes grilled steak to another level, as does the pepper. I also use the pepper for sweet dishes – it’s sultry heat cutting through the sweetness of fruits and sugary desserts. My first recipe is for smoked pepper meringues. This time of year I serve them with frozen raspberries tumbled into sweetened cream but they’re divine with local fresh strawberries at the height of their season.

Black pepper and strawberries work well together and the smoky pepper adds another flavour dimension.

Like all good artisans Ruairidh is constantly experimenting and his latest product is a collaboration with Broighter Gold Rapeseed oil. The lightly smoked oil is perfectly balanced between fresh, nutty oil with smoke – perfect for cooking meats, eggs, or to anoint roasted vegetables at the end of cooking. My other recipe is for North Coast Smokehouse smoked salmon served with spinach, dill and scallion pancakes and smoked oil mayonnaise.

You can visit the smokehouse, located just on the outskirts of Ballycastle to see exactly what they’re doing. Go to northcoastsmokehouse.com for information.

On the subject of collaborations I’ve teamed up with my friends Leona and Richard from Broighter Gold rapeseed oil to run some events (suppers and cookery classes) at Quilly House outside Coleraine. Go to broightergold.co.uk for info and bookings.