The Belfast Telegraph joins Tourism NI to launch the first Northern Ireland Year of Food and Drink Awards.
The awards are a celebration of food producers and experiences in the province.
They will be judged by a panel of distinguished experts, including critic Charles Campion and food author Georgina Campbell, writer of the definitive guides to eating out and hospitality in Ireland.
Belfast Telegraph restaurant critic Joris Minne and Professor Una McMahon-Beattie, head of the department of hospitality and tourism management at Ulster University, complete the quartet of judges.
The awards follow the Year of Food and Drink 2016, a celebration of our local producers, restaurants and food events organised by Tourism NI and Food NI.
And the awards will honour the organisations and producers who are not just making food but who are creating unforgettable food experiences in Northern Ireland for tourists and for the people who live here.
The eight categories range from Best NI Food Event or Festival, Best Food Story, Best Marketing Achievement and Best Food Innovation.
You can enter the awards on the Belfast Telegraph website until the morning of Friday January 6 2017.
A glittering awards ceremony and dinner — which itself promises to be a memorable feast showcasing award-winning local produce — takes place in the Culloden Hotel outside Belfast on February 2.
Susie Brown, Tourism NI director of corporate development, said: “The Year of Food and Drink has been welcomed, embraced and widely implemented right across the tourism and hospitality industry and food and drink sectors here at home as well as overseas.
“As the year draws to a close we are focused on creating a lasting legacy for the initiative and the Year of Food and Drink Awards will help us to do that.
“The awards will celebrate the best of Northern Ireland’s food and drink industry, recognising excellence and talented collaborations dedicated to placing Northern Ireland firmly on the culinary map.
“The quality and variety of local produce in Northern Ireland has helped enhance the food and drink experiences for visitors, with figures showing that overnight visitors to Northern Ireland from all markets spent an estimated £751m last year, of which approximately one third was spent on food and drink.
“We will continue to strive to further develop Northern Ireland’s reputation in food and drink both at home and with our visitors, with our tourism industry growing as a consequence.”
Jackie Reid of the Belfast Telegraph said: “The Belfast Telegraph is delighted to introduce the Northern Ireland Year of Food and Drink Awards.
“The food and drink sector is a vibrant part of our local economy and is becoming an ever-greater draw for visitors.
“Between now and the closing date of January 6 readers will be able to follow some of our greatest food stories in print and online.
“We are also delighted to have assembled a distinguished panel of judges who will be casting their eye over the many entries to these awards.”
The Year of Food and Drink 2016 celebrated a different aspect of Northern Ireland’s food and drink experience every month of this year.
January celebrated the many breakfast foods which are made by Northern Ireland’s producers, while June marked the success of our dairy offering.
And in August, meat products were celebrated, while breads and baking were celebrated during September.
This month sees a celebration of Christmas and premium foods from our many high-end producers.