The direct route isn’t necessarily the most practical road to follow
Satellite navigation and I have a love hate relationship.
As someone who has a diminished sense of direction it can be a blessing.
But nearly having my car charged by a young bull in a back lane in Roscommon has been one of many instances where the direct route isn’t necessarily the most practical.
Last week I set the in car gadget to Carrickmore in Co Tyrone where I was set to meet a group of Southern Irish based food writers, hosted by Food NI, who were visiting the Ion distillery at the edge of the town.
Again I was taken down a very narrow lane in the wilds of Tyrone but passed through a forest that opened up to reveal the most beautiful glassy lake.
We, quite rightly, wax lyrical about the lakes of Fermanagh but this untouched treasure could rival them any day.
Co Tyrone is rich in great food and drink producers as well.
The Ion distillery was set up by Darren Nugent two years ago. The name Ion is Irish for pure.
They use water drawn from a well fissure deep in ancient rock that’s located directly below the distillery. Darren produces vodka, gin and Northern Ireland’s first rum.
The distillery is in a converted byre and Darren has manufactured a lot of the equipment himself – no shiny, bespoke copper stills here. He infuses his gin and rum with spices and aromatics that are placed in a perforated basket within the still – nothing is added afterwards, the whole process is natural.
You can buy his products in good off licences throughout the province.
Mervyn Kennedy of Kennedy Bacon and Janice Cuddy of Ipsini Charcuterie were also at the distillery to show off their products. Mervyn is based in Omagh and properly cures bacon and produces sausages.
His bacon cooks perfectly with a crisp golden result and no “white stuff” that comes from poorly produced varieties.
Janice’s brother Jonny makes award winning charcuterie in Augnacloy.
In his first year of business he won Best Charcuterie in the UK in the Great Taste Awards. Considering there are businesses in the UK who have been curing meats for over 20 years, this was a magnificent feat. Their products are consistent, wonderfully flavoured and innovative. We were treated to breasola, a cured fillet of beef, cured pork and beer sticks and traditional chorizo.
For my first recipe I’m pairing Darren’s rum with one of Mervyn’s gammons. The gammon is cooked and then roasted with a spiced pineapple and rum glaze. Gammon and pineapple is a classic – this takes it to new heights.
It’s a warming dish for the cooler weather.
Serve with red cabbage and spuds.
Many years ago I found out there was a woman making sheep’s milk products just outside Ardstraw at the foot of the Derg Valley.
Linda Gourley had diversified into making sheep milk cheese and yoghurt on her 70 acre farm.
This is a stunning part of the country – sweeping lush hills dotted with grazing sheep.
Linda was producing a soft type sheep’s cheese and yoghurt in a portacabin in the farm yard.
The cheese was young, fresh but flavoursome. Perfect to spread on bread or have in a salad. Linda only sells her cheese at some markets (thankfully for me Coleraine is one of them) and food festivals. She’s a true artisan who isn’t interested in expanding but is happy to make a good living out of what she can manage.
You have to seek out her cheese but it’s so worth it.
For my second recipe I’m using Linda’s cheese to make a crispy fritter and using the Ispini chorizo to make an accompanying salad. Tyrone is often forgotten about from a food perspective but these four iconic producers show it has a wealth of taste to offer.