It's hard not to be inspired by the commitment and dedication of our finest food producers and chefs, says the managing director of Hannan Meats in Moira
There's marvellous food happening now in Northern Ireland and mostly being crafted from superb products from local farms. As a food producer and someone who loves local food, I draw tremendous inspiration from the whole process - the farmers, processors and the chefs who are helping to transform Northern Ireland into a European centre of gastronomic excellence.
I am convinced too that people here are recognising increasingly the outstanding quality of local products and the exciting menus being created in restaurants across the country.
I can trace my interest in ingredients and food production to my days on the family farm in Co Kildare. I helped my father around the farm, prepared animals and also watched my mother, a magnificent cook, creating richly flavoured meals and snacks largely from our produce and other raw materials from neighbouring farms.
Based in Moira, Co Down, my business depends entirely on the quality of raw materials from local farms and also works alongside many of the gifted chefs here, in the Republic and Great Britain in the creation of different eating experiences.
Working with the chefs on different menu options is fascinating and challenging. Our open door policy encourages them to visit our processing plant to see what we have available and to sample some of the essences, flavoured oils, rubs and relishes that we are also now developing.
Colleagues like Paul Clarke, a former chef who knows all there is to know about molecular gastronomy, and Jilly Dougan, a long-standing expert in dry-curing techniques particularly for pork and bacon, who looks after our new business development and marketing, and other colleagues, are a constant source of inspiration and especially new ideas for food. The practical support from food technologists at Loughry Campus in Cookstown has also been immensely important in our new product development.
The quality of local produce is now attracting the interest of top English chefs. They readily admit that they are unable to source the same quality and variety of meat that is readily available here from suppliers of Hereford and Glenarm Shorthorn animals, dry cured bacon and pork from rare and outdoor bred pigs and excellent poultry.
As a business we have set our sights only on excellence in provenance, quality and consistency, which begin with breed, feed and excellent animal husbandry. We are essentially at the centre of a partnership that covers both products and new ideas for food that we can provide for our network of customers.
It's hard not to be inspired by the dedication of farmers and the commitment of hotels and restaurants to serve these outstanding products.