Armagh failing to make the most of coveted PGI apple status, warns food guru
ARMAGH apple growers must "use it or lose it" when it comes to the EU protected geographical indication (PGI) of the beloved Armagh Bramley.
The pink blossom of the county's orchards will brighten up the route of Giro d'Italia cyclists on Armagh's rural roads next Sunday.
The apples themselves are lauded for their intense flavour and low sugar content, which help them retain texture and taste, not least of all in cider form.
However, a protected names consultant warned the county that it must make the use of the PGI designation the apples received from the EU in 2012 – or end up in a stew of wasted potential.
The labelling means that only apples grown in Armagh can call themselves 'Bramley' – Lough Neagh eels and 'early' potatoes from Comber are the only other items from Northern Ireland to also hold PGI status.
Dr Matthew O'Callaghan warned a meeting of the Northern Ireland Fruit Growers Association last week that PGI recipients like West County Farmhouse Cheddar and Grimsby Traditional Smoked Fish had under-used the honour.
Dr O'Callaghan, who lives in Melton in Leicestershire, said: "Having gained PGI status, it is very much a case of use it to boost income or lose it.
"Several groups who failed to make good use of their products' hard-won protected food name have lost it, for example West Country Farmhouse Cheddar and Grimsby Traditional Smoked Fish."
But making a concerted effort would help boost Armagh Bramleys' profile, "gain more market share and grow your county's economy", Dr O'Callaghan said.
He said having protected geographical indication status for Melton Mowbray Pork Pies and Stilton had transformed Melton when it was blighted by unemployment.
Its food industries are now growing and producers were exploiting the potential of EU protected food name status.
He said: "We were at risk of having neither pies nor cheese made in Melton as manufacturers elsewhere started to use these names. Now we have more producers in Melton, selling at a premium price nationwide right throughout the recession.
"You can do the same with Armagh Bramley Apples and need to do so as today one can drive through the county and see little mention of your product.
"Go for a meal in local hotels and restaurants and see no mention of the product – indeed, you can consume and greatly enjoy this wonderful apple without even knowing what it is or where it is from."
In contrast, signage in Melton told visitors they were entering the "home of Melton Mowbray Pork Pies and Stilton Cheese".
The area had also launched events such as the British Pork Pie Championships to hammer home the area's association with the pastry and pork foodstuff.
He added: "From my experience working with dozens of EU Protected Food Names, I see no reason why Armagh Bramley Apples cannot enjoy similar success."
Hamilton Loney of the Northern Ireland Fruit Growers Association said the apples could be the source of "huge returns" for the rural community "not least in the hospitality sector".
They could become the theme of away-days, events or even mini-breaks, Mr Hamilton said.
Coach tours of the orchard area in Armagh will take place next weekend to coincide with the Giro's visit – while the village of Loughgall, the heart of the apple-growing district, holds its Armagh Apple Blossom Fair today.