There’s a richness in our local dairy products which is quite unique


Love Dairy is the theme for Northern Ireland’s year of food and drink in June. We’re blessed here with lush, rain drenched pastures that in turn gives us the best milk in the world.

This statement is not made lightly but I’ve cooked in quite a few countries in the past few years and nothing has compared to the quality of milk, cream, butter and yoghurt that we produce here. There’s a richness to our dairy here that’s unique.

Now that modern medicine accepts that eating butter, cream and full fat milk is good for you, in moderation, and drinking milk with some of the fat removed or just eating margarine, is actually detrimental to your health, we can relax and enjoy what comes naturally.

Have a look at the ingredients of fat free yoghurt and the amount of sugar it contains will shock you. Go for Clandeboye Estate instead as they produce yoghurt from Jersey cows that needs nothing but a toot of honey or some fresh fruit.

The American chef Julia Child wrote: “With enough butter, anything is good” and I couldn’t agree more. A small amount of butter added to a pan of cooked fish or meat will take it to a new realm of flavour. If you make a classic compound butter it will give your cooking more than a bit of va va voom! Boil a shallot with 200ml of red or white wine until there is no liquid left. We call this a reduction in professional kitchens and it’s the bedrock of sauces and dressings.

Blend this with some room temperature butter and whatever flavourings you wish – soft herbs, garlic, citrus, roasted onions – the world is your oyster here. Make a big load and freeze it in batches. A red wine, garlic and thyme butter is delicious anointing a grilled steak or add a citrus and basil one to the pan when your fish is just cooked. Italians will balk at the idea but a knob of rosemary and garlic butter folded into your risotto at the last minute gives it a creamy hit of savouriness.

One of my pet hates (and there are many...!) is when you eat in a restaurant and the sauce consists of lightly flavoured boiled cream. Cream should add a silky texture and richness to sauce but shouldn’t be the main component. It should be added only to enhance a beautifully made stock, not be the main player.

My first recipe this week is for an all purpose veloute sauce. You need to start with a good stock and I’ve included a recipe for a chicken one – it’s worth the effort.

For me the ultimate dish that celebrates dairy is a good baked rice pudding. It evokes childhood and when well made is the crème de la crème of desserts.

When I’ve tried to buy pudding rice lately its been hard to find and I’m wondering whether that’s because we’re not making it as much. Time to bring this treasure back onto the table!

My mum used to add raisins to her version and they were wonderful all plumped up and tangled in the fluffy rice. I’ve made mine a bit more adult friendly by soaking them beforehand in rum and cinnamon. You don’t need to do this at all but it does give it a delicious warmth.

Forget the nice weather – this one works in all climes!