Food shows are a great opportunity to showcase best of British produce

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The BBC Good Food Show took place last week in the NEC in Birmingham.

It’s one of the biggest food shows in the UK and Northern Ireland had a dedicated area there, showcasing food producers plus a Taste of Northern Ireland theatre.

I was delighted to host the theatre and visitors embraced the unique stories from our producers while tasting an array of our wonderful food. Brewers from Hillstown Farm and Farmageddon lined up beside Glens of Antrim Potatoes, White’s Oats, Punjana Tea, Boost and Boom, Harnett’s oil and salt, Burren Balsamics vinegars, Butterfly Rum and cider makers Long Meadow and Armagh Cider Company.

I worked in England in the 1990s and spent a lot of my time almost apologising for coming from Northern Ireland.

Fast forward to 2016 and the difference couldn’t be starker. Half the audience in the theatre had already been here on holiday and the other half plan to visit.

The quality of indigenous Northern Irish produce speaks for itself but the warmth, patience and passion of the people making it, and sampling their wares at these shows, should never be taken for granted. Along with smiles, they gave away thousands of samples and talked tirelessly about their produce and the country in general.

Seasoned show visitors are really discerning and the quality of the food is outstanding with competition rife. So nothing could be better than seeing iconic branded bags from here swish alongside well known English brands.

The show also featured many celebrity chefs like the Hairy Bikers, James Martin, Michel Roux and Mary Berry.

I saw grown women cry when they saw Mary, they were so overcome with emotion. I don’t normally get starstruck but I did meet one of my heroes in Birmingham - Paul Kelly who produces Kelly Bronze turkeys on his farm in Kent. At one stage all the turkeys bred here were Bronze, due to their distinctive feathers.

Paul’s father Derek rejuvenated the breed in 1971 and Paul joined the company soon after.

The company sends 100,000 chicks to Ireland every year and to my mind it’s the best turkey you can buy. They were cooking and serving it in Birmingham - the moist flesh is delicious and the skin perfectly crispy.

When you force a turkey on with growth hormones and unnatural practices, the resulting meat is going to be insipid with flabby skin. Paul has recently started a turkey business in Virginia – a bit like taking coals to Newcastle.

But the reality in America is that turkey farming has become so intensive that the quality is awful.

Their turkeys are full of water and mechanically plucked, resulting in zero taste. Paul hand plucks his organically fed, free range turkeys – a unique situation across the entire United States. Not surprisingly these birds have been much sought after this thanksgiving. Many of his turkeys made their way to the other side of the country to California where a 200 dollar bird might have cost the same again to ship to the sunshine state.

A dedicated minority of our turkey farms here farm ‘bronze’ turkeys. They cost a bit more but the difference in taste from an intensively raised one is vast and well worth the money. Paul Kelly cares passionately about animal welfare, and the taste of good poultry – he really is a true food hero and it made my trip complete to spend time with him. 

I’ve been asked a lot lately about the best way to cook a turkey and I’ve included my favourite method for this week’s first recipe. It involves soaking muslin in lots of butter and cider. In the absence of a local haberdashery,buy the muslin on line. The turkey is moist and delicious with the resulting gravy tasting like the proper stuff.

You can’t have turkey without stuffing and mine uses festive chestnuts combined with figs for a sweet and nutty version.