“I wanted to make something great from this wee island.”
This was Alastair Bell’s response when asked about the inspiration behind his new product which is enjoying a hugely successful debut to the food scene here, writes Aine McAuley.
Irish Black Butter isn’t quite a chutney but it’s not a jam either.
And with Armagh Bramley Apples as its main ingredient, it’s certainly not our typical idea of a butter.
“Apples are mainly used to make tarts and ciders – this is something new. I like the fact it’s not a jam or a chutney. It’s an umbrella over those and encompasses more than they do,” said Alastair.
The preserve is based on slowly stewed apples, which are then combined with other ingredients including brandy and brown sugar to create the unique taste and texture.
While it may be a new concept to us, references to black butter can be traced back to the era of Jane Austen and the bygone days of the apple harvest which involved whole communities.
Apple butter remains a popular product in parts of Europe and America where it is served as a spread.
Alastair said: “The reaction has been better than I ever imagined.
“People have been very encouraging and supportive. They like the idea of something local and new from their own door step.
“I wanted to create something great from this wee island – a positive thing for people to take home.
“Stockists have told me that they are getting return customers who want to buy more and that is a really good sign for us.”
Alastair, who lives in Portrush, is well known throughout Northern Ireland as the man behind Muddyfarm Models – distinctively weathered items of model farm machinery.
He is also the creator of the Jake the Tractor series of children’s books.
Last year, he participated in Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council’s Alchemy business support programme with a view to developing the reading range.
He took the opportunity to “float” the idea of the Irish Black Butter to his mentor, which marked the first step in a collaboration with chef Paul Clarke of En Place Foods based at Loughry.
Working together, the pair developed the recipe from an initial sample to the finished product which can now be found in outlets across Northern Ireland.
He has also traded with Naturally North Coast and Glens Artisan Market which he described as a “tremendous” experience.
“I met other food businesses through the Alchemy initiative, and the Journey to Market programme which I had previously taken part in.
“Then we had the 2016 Year of Food and Drink which was really marvellous – you couldn’t help but notice and be inspired by our fantastic local produce,” he said.
In Alastair’s words, he has enjoyed a “crazy journey” so far with his product, and he is now looking forward to further growth and development.
“We want to increase our stockists both locally and further afield. It’s an all-island product so I really want to build those connections.
“It’s such a versatile product and I would love to see chefs using it on their menus as well,” he said.
You can find out more at www.irishblackbutter.com or follow Irish Black Butter on Facebook and Twitter.