Michele Shirlow is the chief executive of Food NI and Taste of Ulster. Since she took up the position six years ago, membership has grown to more than two hundred and fifty local producers, restaurants and cafes
Asked to name Northern Ireland's five best, she recommends...
The Heatherlea, Main Street, Bangor. 028 9145 3157
Their breads, cakes, biscuits and traybakes were so beloved of customers at their bakery and café, that they had to start supplying independent retailers too. Paul and Patricia Getty's wholesale range includes a plethora of Great Taste Award-winning goodies like Armagh Rolled Oat Crisp and Traditional Boiled Cake. They're up to speed with the low GI and Gluten-free trends as well. I love their Spelt Wheaten with a bowl of soup.
Krazi Baker, Belfast
Griddle breads and pancakes cooked in front of your eyes? That's no trouble to Mark Douglas aka the Krazi Baker. None of his breads need yeast, so he's able to just mix up his ingredients and throw them on the griddle. The range is expanding all the time. He does potato apple bread, soda bread, wheaten farls, treacle farls... his mobile bakery can be found at events across Northern Ireland and at his weekly stall at the Crumlin Road car boot sale. Failing that you can tweet him on @KraziBaker.
I don't know anyone from Northern Ireland who doesn't come over all misty-eyed at the mention of Irwin's Nutty Krust spread thick with butter, or a slice of malty toasted Veda. That's part of the reason why Irwin's is in my top five. I also rate their award-winning Paul Rankin range of wheaten, soda and fruit breads. The Jammy Joeys in their Howells Handmade range are seriously addictive and I'm loving their new bagels.
Yellow Door, Woodhouse Street, Portadown. 028 3835 3528
I would walk over hot coals for one of Simon Dougan's (above) raspberry and white chocolate scones. Thank goodness they deliver to so many places now, although if I had to drive to the bakery in Portadown when the craving comes on me, I probably would, but that would end up with me buying boxes of their perfect patisserie products. They also make ‘proper’ bread like wheaten, sourdough and focaccia. There are no artificial colours, preservatives, additives or yeast enhancers. Just yummy.
Thyme and Co Gluten Free Bakery, Quay Road, Ballycastle. 028 2076 9851
Tom and Eimear Mullins' bakery grew out of customer demand for their gluten-free bakes at the café next door. They originally supplied other cafes and restaurants but now their range of three cakes is available for retail. They do the loveliest Lemon Drizzle, the chocolatiest Chocolate & Orange and their Great Taste-winning cake which is Coconut and Almond. I love them all and I love that gluten-free tastes so good.
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