The standard of food and drinks on offer within NI has impressed me

Bramley apple.'Picture by Brian Little
Bramley apple.'Picture by Brian Little

The Food Heartland is a council supported initiative that showcases food producers, chefs and food outlets in the Armagh, Craigavon and Banbridge areas.

Last year I judged the Food Heartland awards alongside chef Noel McMeel from the Lough Erne Resort in Fermanagh. We were both immensely impressed with the standard of food and drinks on offer within this area.

One of the hardest things to judge was the Food Heartland signature dish. From a simple apple tart in Digby’s served in Killylea to an elaborate Mexican beef cheek mole dish in Quails at the FE Williams Gallery in Banbridge, the standard was exemplary.

The eventual winner was from John Mathers, the chef and owner of Newforge House in Magheralin. His dish of sticky toffee Armagh apple pudding with Mac Ivors cider and Abernethy butter caramel sauce, and Irish black butter buttermilk ice cream was the essence of what the region has to offer. The PGI status Bramley apple is very much at the heart of all that is great about food from Northern Ireland. Its character – verdant, lush and heavy – is unique. Armagh apples are a versatile ingredient – the perfect foil for rich pork, oily fish or cheeses and equally as good as a dessert ingredient.

I’ll be at Armagh show today demonstrating dishes using ingredients from the county like the iconic apple, cider, Ballylisk cheese, Pinkerton’s pork, Burren Balsamics vinegar and honey. Ballylisk is a new triple cream cheese made by Dean and Mark Wright from Ballylisk Farm outside Tandragee. It’s a soft, nutty cheese that packs a punch in the creaminess department. It’s perfect on a cheeseboard but I’ll be adding it to leek and bacon pancakes at the show today.

Griskins are an underused cut of pork. They’re collops of meat that sit beside the rib. They’re cheap, tender and take minutes to cook. Pork and apple is a classic combination and for my second recipe I’m also adding miso paste to the dish. Miso is a Japanese soy bean paste that will add a delicious salty element to the sharp apples and pork.

For a sweet recipe this week I’ve included a sweet cider jelly using Long Meadow’s new Berry Burst blackcurrant cider. Elderflowers are in season at the moment and their fragrance is lovely whipped into a cream as an accompaniment to the tangy berries.