The Guild of Fine Food announced their top 50 foods in the world in their Great Taste Awards last week.
These products all won a maximum of 3 stars, after a rigorous judging process that began with over 10,000 entries. Only 141 foods won three stars.
Amongst honey from Greece, maple syrup from Canada, English gin, Italian cheese and black saffron from North West Iran, were four foods from Northern Ireland.
Peter Hannan, a butcher from Moira won a record total of 59 stars and three of these accolades place him in the top 50 – a UK record. His Glenarm Shorthorn four rib roast, his sugar pit beef brisket and Glenarm Shorthorn wing rib sirloin all excelled.
Top chefs in Ireland and the rest of the UK are falling over themselves to stock his meat and its name checked in the best restaurants. He ages the meat in a Himalayan salt brick lined aging chamber - only a handful of these exist in the world.
Like many of the producers here, he never rests on his laurels and is constantly creating ways to add flavour and value to his meat. Burying an already cured beef brisket in a sugar pit for 10 days is pure genius and the resulting tender, sweet, salty meat is a revelation. His beef pastrami ribs won two stars (they should have got three!).
Another top 50 winner from Northern Ireland is Will and Allison Abernethy’s smoked butter. It’s a deceptively simple product – hand rolled butter made from two ingredients, cream and salt, is then cold smoked to perfection. The result is magnificent and elevates food to new levels.
A creamy mash instantly becomes something sublime with the addition of this butter. I baste steaks and fish with it in the pan at the end of cooking. A whole chicken anointed with the smoked butter and then roasted is utter heaven – the crispy skin intoxicatingly delicious. This variety is their newest product, but, like Peter, they’re constantly experimenting and thinking of ways to add to their existing range.
Rooney Fish in Kilkeel triumphed with their Carlingford Lough oysters. They’re the plump Pacific oyster variety and as good an oyster as you’ll find anywhere. I served some to a friend, over from the East Coast of America and an oyster expert.
He thought they were better than any he’d had in the states. I’m a bit of a purist when it comes to this shell fish – for me a squeeze of lemon is the only adornment they need (with the exception of a bottle of Kilkeel based Whitewater Brewery’s Oyster stout.)
Peter Hannan has a retail outlet, The Meat Merchant, just outside Moira and you can pick up his award winning meat and the Abernethy smoked butter there. My recipes this week are for accompaniments to roasts or the brisket.
They need to be roasted, nothing more, added crusts un necessary – just a good gravy from the roasting juices – these are side dishes to have with good meat, using the Abernethy smoked butter.
Northern Ireland scooped a total of 303 gold stars this year. You can check out nigoodfood.com for a list of all the winners. In our Year of Food and Drink they’ve done us proud.