When I moved house a couple of years ago someone said to me: “You spend the first 30 years of your life accumulating stuff and the rest of your life trying to get rid of it.”
Most of my “stuff” comes from Christmas gifts. We all spend time and money, pressurised by advertisers, on gifts we don’t really need. The answer is to give expendable presents that support small local businesses. A pair of gloves gathering dust in a drawer or a bottle of local gin? A locally sourced cheeseboard with chutneys or some lily of the valley handcream? No contest in my book.
This week I’ve compiled a list of 10 suggestions for food and drink gifts and experiences and the best places to buy them.
1, We have a long tradition of jam and chutney making in Northern Ireland. There are many producers keeping this craft alive but a few notables. Margaret Cooper makes a perfectly sharp, warm whiskey marmalade under the “Made with Love” label. Keith and Suzanne Livingstone combine great drinks with preserves. Mojito, Gin and Tonic marmalade and Pernod and blackcurrant jam are just some of their range. Kay Armstrong, of DeliMuru, uses local fruit and vegetables to produce inspirational preserves – Plum and Shortcross gin chutney and her curried rhubarb are particularly sublime.
2, Julie and Kevin Hickey produce award-winning cheeses at their dairy in the Sperrins. They’ve recently added beer and cider jellies to their range to accompany the cheese. They’ve collaborated with Northbound Brewery in Derry and Long Meadow Cider in Portadown to make “Wee Crafty” accompaniments for cheese or cold meats. They have the consistency of honey and a balanced sweet/sour flavour that is unusual but simply stunning.
3, Shane and Dorothy Neary make the only bean to bar stone ground chocolate in Northern Ireland at their base in South Armagh. They ethically source the beans from Ecuador, Madagascar and Peru. As well as plain chocolate they make truffles and hot chocolate. You could buy these commercially produced in a supermarket but they would be as far removed from Neary Nog’s as I am from Elle McPherson. The problem will be actually parting with them as a gift.
4, Broighter Gold, based at the foot of Benevagh outside Limavady, cold press rapeseeds from their farm to make a nutty, delicious oil. As well as a great range of oils, they also host tours of their Econmusee registered pressing rooms and events that would make a different from the norm gift. Broightergold.co.uk for information.
5, Chef Brian McDermott recently took over the Foyle Hotel in Moville, Donegal. He hosts regular cooking classes in his cookery school at the hotel showcasing produce from the Inishowen Peninsula. You can stay the night and enjoy food cooked in the restaurant by Head Chef, Derek Creagh, who was Heston Blumenthal’s chef in his three Michelin Star restaurant in Bray in Oxfordshire. His vouchers are beautifully presented in a slick gift box.
6, Diana Henry is a London based food writer originally from Coleraine. Her latest book “How to eat a peach” was multi- award winning. In it she charts her journey with food with life changing menus she has enjoyed throughout the years. There’s lots of reference to Northern Ireland that will resonate with readers from here. The front cover has the texture of a furry peach too – just to make it even more attractive!
7, Jim Nicolson’s wine shop in Crossgar, County Down is a must for the wine lover. As well as stocking wines from across the globe, they showcase local gins, ciders and artisan produce. Throughout the year they host events such as wine tastings, food and wine matching and wine dinners in selected restaurants. The friendly, knowledgeable staff will give advice on the best wines to serve with your turkey too. A voucher would please your most discerning friends. www.jnwine.com for details.
8, Broughgammon Farm, outside Ballycastle is run by the Cole family. They’re famous for being ethical goat farmers but also have a café and farm shop. They run classes throughout the year on butchery, sausage making, Christmas garland making and cheesemaking to name a few.
I attended a cheesemaking day, hosted by Silke Cropp of Corleggy cheese in Cavan and for me it was one of the highlights of 2018. Go to broughgammon.com for information on events and opening times.
9, Susie Hamilton-Stubbers infuses excellent quality balsamic vinegars with good local products to make her Burren Balsamics range. The Armagh bramley vinegar peps up salads and a splash will elevate your gravy to new heights. Other varieties include beetroot and cocoa nib and rhubarb and ginger. Her Strawberry and mint white balsamic is delicious added to sparkling wine or dry cider for a festive cocktail. She sells gift sets but if you want to really impress someone special her white balsamic with gold leaf flakes is the one to go for.
10, Christmas is the perfect excuse to push the boat out on luxurious fish. Smoked salmon served on fresh wheaten bread lathered with Abernethy butter is one of my favourite things. Walter Ewing’s family have been smoking salmon on the Shankill Road in Belfast since 1911 so he knows a thing or two about this art. Donegal Prime Seafood in the maiden city haven’t been smoking salmon for as long, only about 25 years, but theirs is well worth sussing out – contact them via www.donegalprimefish.com. Ruairdh Morrison hot smokes Glenarm salmon in Ballycastle. It has a softer texture than Ewings and Donegal Prime’s cold smoked version but it is equally as delicious. Rooney Seafood, in Kilkeel rightly won three Gold Stars in the Great Taste Awards for their Millbay oysters this year. If you think you don’t like oysters you should try these and if you do like them, these are some of the best in the world. They need nothing but a drop of Tabasco and a glass of bubbles or a toot of stout.
You can get information on all these producers from Food NI’s website at www.nigoodfood.com. Arcadia Deli on the Lisburn Road in Belfast, Indie Fude in Comber and Warke’s Deli in Portstewart are among the shops that sell a wide range of these goods.
There are markets on between now and Christmas in most major towns where you can pick up supplies straight from the producers. Never mind the quality, you’ll be supporting local businesses right across the board.