Belfast Telegraph

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Why we want to hear all about your food tale

With just three days left to enter the Year of Food & Drink Awards, Tourism NI discusses the category of Best Food Story for those who have successfully linked destination and place to plate.

By John McGrillen

The great success of the Year of Food and Drink (YOFD) has added a new dimension to Northern Ireland's appeal as a tourism destination.

Our aim was to promote the excellence and distinctiveness of our food and drink as a way not only of attracting visitors, but also as a means for them to discover and enjoy Northern Ireland's heritage, landscape, culture and people.

I believe that over the last 12 months we have come to understand, very clearly, the power of the story behind our food and how it can engage and inspire visitors, and give them a real flavour of Northern Ireland.

The way we grow, catch, breed, craft, cook and present our food, and the personal stories of our farmers, processors, bakers, butchers, micro-brewers, distillers, chefs, café, pub and restaurant owners have been celebrated brilliantly during the YOFD.

Individually and collectively, they have made a significant contribution to the success of the programme.

That's why the Belfast Telegraph's Year of Food and Drink Awards includes a category for Best Food Story, open to those who have a tale to tell which links food to destination, or place to plate.

There are so many amazing stories to choose from, each reflecting a personal passion, a vision, and a devotion to quality.

Take David Love Cameron, who transformed The Walled Garden at Helen's Bay into a productive market garden, and also reinstated a shelling pea that has not been grown locally for many decades. His produce is now in demand from top-end restaurants.

Echlinville Distillery on the Ards Peninsula has also resurrected old brands and traditions. Using barley grown in surrounding fields, it produces fine whiskey and gives visitors to the distillery a unique insight into its 'field to glass' approach.

Then there are the stories of our buffalo farmers, the chef who climbs mountains to visit goat farms, and the legacy of Uncle Peader who inspired the launch of Mac Ivor craft cider.

These behind-the-scenes narratives bring to life the creativity and dedication of our agri-food sector and unveil the unique character of our people. Moreover, we've been very successful in getting our stories out to the wider world with a host of profile-boosting activity.

As a result, Tourism NI generated over £4.3m of media coverage in the Republic of Ireland and £17.5m in Great Britain.

Internationally too, YOFD achieved extensive coverage, stimulated by over 100 journalist visits that we organised, from publications as diverse as Metro, Foodlovin.de and the Huffington Post.

These opinion-forming journalists are praising the quality and range of our offerings and putting food and drink in Northern Ireland in the spotlight.

We also generated over 300,000 social media engagements and some 25,000 people viewed our blogs. In short, throughout the YOFD we shared and celebrated our food stories, food heritage and food and drink culture like never before. As a result, in the years to come I believe we will see more foodie visitors to Northern Ireland, drawn not only by the excellence of our produce but also by the great stories we have to tell.

John McGrillen is chief executive of Tourism NI. To enter before the deadline of Friday, January 6, visit belfasttelegraph.co.uk/food anddrinkawards

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