Northern Ireland butchers feeling mighty meaty with creative twists on old favourites
A new wave of Northern Ireland food producers is embracing other flavours of home in a bid to gain an edge in the market.
Among those leading the way is Co Fermanagh meat firm Kettyle Irish Foods.
Kettyle Irish Foods, part of Fane Valley Group, Northern Ireland's biggest farmers' co-operative, specialises in dry-aged beef and other premium meat products.
The company has joined forces with Irish brewery giant Guinness to launch a high-end beef burger aimed at selected retailers and hospitality outlets across Ireland and other parts of Europe.
The premium product will combine the taste of the world's favourite stout with some of the most flavoursome cuts of meat.
But aside from the recent addition of Guinness, Lisnaskea-based Kettyle Irish Foods chief Maurice Kettyle also uses another special native ingredient to add to the flavour to his meat.
He began experimenting curing bacon with seaweed but stumbled upon the idea of using moss to add flavour, after he set about designing a special seaweed salt chamber for other meat products.
A biologist suggested the flavour could be achieved using carrageen, a native Irish moss to bind the seaweed into salt blocks.
The mixture of salt, carrageen and seaweed is pressed into a mould and dried under pressure for 10 days before the blocks are used in the chamber.
The company was established in 2004 by Mr Kettyle, an experienced meat processor and marketer.
The company, now a major supplier of beef and other meats to top retailers and restaurants in many parts of Europe as well as the Middle East, has won a string of national awards, including UK Great Taste Awards. Its beef and lamb productions have been sold to the Raffles Hotel Group in Dubai and Saudi Arabia.
The new premium burger is the first in a series of many combined products planned by Kettyle and Guinness.
Mr Kettyle, founder and managing director of Kettyle Irish Foods, said: "Our courtship with Guinness has been a lengthy one but we've enjoyed every step and are so delighted to be celebrating this union.
"We look forward to a long and fruitful partnership with Guinness."
The product was launched at an exclusive event in the Open Gate Brewery, St James' Gate.
But it's not the first time unlikely flavours have been brought together. Irish food producers have long been in on the act.
Guinness already has its own stout-flavoured crisps and Butlers Chocolates partnered with Jameson to create its own whiskey-flavoured chocolate truffles.
Co Down ice cream maker Glastry Farm uses Teeling Whiskey for one of its flavours and Abernethy butter and Fivemiletown have launched speciality products including Irish dulse.
Meanwhile, Co Down butcher Peter Hannan has made a name for himself as one of the first in Northern Ireland to use a specialised Himalayan salt chamber to age his premium cuts.
His Moira-based firm 'Meat Merchant' has also recently signed a deal with Fortnum and Mason for a speciality burger.
The premium burger made from Shorthorn beef, a native Irish breed, is the latest development in Hannan's long-standing relationship with the prestigious London grocer for a wide range of high quality beef, much of which is sourced from the Glenarm Estate in Co Antrim.
Mr Hannan developed the meat patty specifically for the retailer using quality beef aged in Hannan Meats' unique complex of Himalayan salt chambers.
Mr Hannan said: "We've been focusing resources for some time on developing exceptional burgers from quality meat that offer an excellent taste experience.
"I believed we've created an outstandingly tasty burger from the very best beef.
"The burger has become such an important element in home cooking and especially in restaurants.
"I've long believed that there were opportunities to create a truly exceptional burger for both quality restaurants and retailing."
Hannan Meats has also developed a premium burger for the Stock Burger restaurant chain established by Intercontinental Hotels, one of the world's biggest food-service and hospitality organisations.
The savoury favourite hit the ground running and was named Best Signature Burger at the National Burger Awards just six weeks after launching.