The Year of Food and Drink 2016 has marked a new dawn for the Northern Ireland foodie. Whether a tourist or native, foodies have a penchant for anything artisan — and it’s a market that food businesses are keen to service.
Now many businesses are putting on tours — by coach or by foot —to bring customers to their doors.
Rather than absent-mindedly drifting through the stalls at the nearest farmers’ market, a growing batch of tour operators are inviting food enthusiasts to take part in their guided visits of some of the region’s more exclusive food stops.
It seems every corner of Northern Ireland is covered.
In Ballycastle, North Coast Walking Tours will treat punters to a jaunt around some of the area’s historic food industries as well as a look at what up-and-coming food producers such as Ursa Minor Bakehouse are doing, before stopping off at the Naturally North Coast and Glens Artisan Market.
Those who want to a sit-down experience can hop on board Michael Deane’s big red bus for Dine around Deanes, which brings fans around the Michellin star chef’s chain of top Belfast restaurants. Branded as a “fun and sociable night” guests will visit the gourmet champion’s Deane and Decano, Deanes at Queens, Deanes Howard Street and Deanes Deli Vin Cafe.
Meanwhile, NI Food Tours offers a number of tours focused solely around food. With themes including the ‘Lord and Lady tour’, ‘Deep into the Mournes’ and ‘Chocolate Ecstasy’ the tours explore Mike’s Fancy Cheese, Harnett’s Oil, Ballywalter Park, Pier 36 and Balloo House, Echlinville and Clandeboye Yoghurt and Kearney Cheese.
Walking tour Belfast Food Tour takes customers to eight foodie destinations over four hours — guests are invited to meet local producers at St George’s Market and the hip artisans of the Cathedral Quarter.
Meanwhile, coach operator McComb’s will take foodies around some of Co Down’s finest food producers and eateries on its ‘Grub Crawl’. Punters can expect to see behind the scenes at Abernethy butter, Kilmegan Cider and restaurant The Poacher’s Pocket.
Director Caroline McComb said: “We’ve found the tour has been surprisingly popular with locals and corporate groups. We like to stay ahead and stay on trend with our tours and we knew that with the year of food there would be a lot of interest in local food so that really inspired us to start the Grub Crawl. Plus we love a bit of food and drink ourselves, so it was a perfect match really.
“We wanted smaller, more exclusive producers — not your run of the mill glossy visitor attractions. And something different that would give an insider’s view of places that were a bit out of the way.”
At the tour’s final stop — the Mourne Seafood Bar — guests will dine at the restaurant alongside a commentary from the head chef.
In the north west, those taking part in the Made in Derry Food Tour can expect to experience the best of the city’s food and drink scene in one afternoon. Participants will visit six eateries and a pub, tasting over 30 different food and drinks while meeting the people behind the products.
Catherine Goligher, founder of Made in Derry Food Tours, said she hopes to encourage visitors to meet the people behind the city’s food — chefs, brewers and owners.
Catherine added: “I really wanted to help people connect to our beautiful city through its amazing food scene. The hospitality sector has grown so much in the past few years and I think we should be shouting more about just how good it is.
“There’s nothing like getting to know the person behind the food, learning their story and feeling their passion. A lot of locals take part in the tours and that’s great because they’re the ones who can build that connection with the business owners.”