A Co Antrim businessman is celebrating the success of his second visit to Downing Street — first with a tractor, and more recently to spread the word about his award winning black butter with the help of the Prime Minister.
It was the culmination of a journey which started some five years earlier, Alastair Bell explained, when he was working on a hobby business called Muddyfarm Models, customising farm toys. He became aware of a national campaign to shop local and support small firms called Small Business Saturday UK. He applied to become one of 100 businesses to be highlighted on social media channels and the press.
He was successful and appeared in London at receptions in Downing Street, the House of Lords and the Treasury with the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
“It was great to connect with entrepreneurs across the UK and in my case bring my one of a kind tractor business to the streets of London. Bringing along my head of marketing — Jake the tractor to London was a bit of a master stroke — like who has ever taken dirty tractors inside number 10?”
Alastair and Jake posed for pictures at Buckingham Palace, Parliament and 10 Downing Street much to the curiosity of those assembled. The highlight of the day was Jake and Alastair getting photographed on the front steps.
In early 2017, Alastair decided to write a book about Jake but as the project continued, long-harboured thoughts of black butter came to the fore.
A plan was hatched to create Ireland’s first commercially produced black butter — a historical foodstuff made with apples and cider and variations were available elsewhere as well as being made locally.
Over the summer of 2017 a recipe created and perfected using Armagh Bramley Apples and local cider. In November, Irish Black Butter was launched on the beach at the Whiterocks at Portrush and the very first jar was sold on the beach that day.
From there, word of the butter spread and led to awards such as the Chef’s Choice in the Blas na hEireann Irish Food Awards, three stars in the Guild of Fine Food Great Taste Awards, awards for cheese accompaniment at Nantwich International Cheese Awards, Farming Life Artisan Producer of The Year, and most recently Regional Award winner of the Great British Food Awards.
On top of this Alastair featured on BBC Dragons Den, while celebrity chef; James Martin on his Great British Adventure Series told viewers of Irish Black Butter “this is off the charts”.
Alastair kept in touch with Small Business Saturday and this year received an invitation from Boris Johnston to attend a special event to celebrate and showcase British food and drink.
Practically five years to the day, Alastair was back at Number10 not with tractors, but with his Irish Black Butter and was delighted to present a jar to the PM.
“It was a fantastic event and a real honour to be invited,” said Alastair. “To be amongst so many superb producers from across the UK was a real privilege and a wonderful opportunity to introduce people to Irish Black Butter.”