Over recent years the food scene in Northern Ireland has really come to the fore and it certainly isn’t showing any signs of slowing, either. In a region rich with artisan producers and traders, County Down and the many towns within it have added greatly to Northern Ireland’s delicious and varied offering – renowned across the Isle of Ireland and further afield.

Helping us uncover the many talented producers and tasty delights that the area has to offer, Dufferin Coaching Inn recently caught up with Meave Davison of Taste and Tour. Whilst Taste and Tour brings you ‘off the Eaten Track’ in Belfast City Centre – showcasing the best of Northern Irish foods against a bustling city backdrop – Meave offers her unique insight into the produce scene in our local area as one of Dufferin’s neighbours!

Over to you Meave…

From tempting tipples, perfect for unwinding with at the weekend, to delicious, locally-reared meats, flavourful cheeses and some of the best dairy products on the Island, County Down really is a gem for the foodie collective of Northern Ireland.  Over recent years it has been a real pleasure to witness the boom in Northern Ireland’s artisan trader scene and our unified approach to ‘love local’ that has created a great community of food and drink enthusiasts. Take a look at some of my favourite producers I’ve been very lucky to discover and enjoy over the years!

Shortcross Distillery

Irish gin has skyrocketed in popularity over recent years with many people now placing it firmly on the pedestal as their drink of choice. This is great news for local gin producers like Shortcross Gin – Northern Ireland’s first premium craft gin brand – which has undoubtedly played its part in the tipple’s popularity locally. Based at Rademon Estate Distillery just outside of Crossgar, Shortcross fuses a range of botanicals within their estate including elderflowers and elderberries with juniper and cassia, to create flavours inspired by the beautiful Estate forest and garden.

The distillery’s visitor centre also offers a fantastic opportunity for guests to learn more about the distillation process, the brand’s history, and sample a few of the preferred pours by the knowledgeable Shortcross team.

Pheasants’ Hill Farm

Just five minutes away from the village of Killyleagh, Pheasants’ Hill Farm is a great resource for those looking for high-quality, free range meat and delicious fruit and vegetables. The third-generation farm began from a pig farming hobby just over 30 years ago and after receiving great interest in their ethically and sustainably raised meat, the farm developed into a fully-fledged farm offering free range chickens, turkey, geese, pigs, duck and wild venison, to name a few. Pheasants’ Hill’s farm shop is open Monday – Saturday each week with their expert team on hand to offer advice and cooking instruction for their premium quality ingredients.

Castlescreen Farm

For over forty years Castlescreen Farm has been providing some of the most delicious Dexter beef available in Ireland, credited to the family’s hard work and commitment to natural farming methods alongside the farm’s lush rolling pastures. Native to Ireland, Dexter cows offer tender marbled beef that is full of flavour, and with Castlescreen’s dry-aging process of 30-35 days, the beef’s delicious flavour is intensified. Castlescreen Farm produce can be purchased at the farm gate or alternatively, the team offers a meat box service with free delivery within a ten-mile radius.

Farmageddon Brewery

For those who love craft beer with a natural approach, Farmageddon’s award-winning brews crafted in Comber, County Down, are a great choice. The team at Farmageddon are behind the hand-crafted beer that places an emphasis on zero chemical engineering, and as such, each bottle is unfiltered, preservative free and vegan-friendly. Those who fancy a locally-crafted beer can enjoy it in restaurants, pubs and clubs across Northern Ireland and also watch Farmageddon’s social media channels for announcements of tap room events and opportunities to sample their innovative beers.

Young Buck Cheese

Adding to Northern Ireland’s ever-growing list of accomplishments for the food sector, Michael Thomson of Mike’s Fancy Cheese is heading up the local dairy industry, supplying Northern Ireland with its first raw milk cheese entitled Young Buck. With the support of investors, Mike saw his dream of producing his own cheese range become a reality and now produces his cheese in Newtownards. Based on a Stilton-recipe, Young Buck is a favourite for many local eaters, and when fully mature has a renowned ‘long-lingering finish and touch of Northern Ireland.’ Young Buck Cheese and other cheeses from Mikes Fancy Cheese can be purchased at Michael’s shop on Little Donegall Street, Belfast, or from the Cheese Room at Indie Fude, Comber.

County Down isn’t short of having great artisan trading markets where lots of up and coming producers are waiting to be discovered. If you are looking to learn more about the local offering, you can visit some of the local markets including Downpatrick Artisan Market which is held on the third Saturday of every month, Comber Farmer’s Market which takes place on the first Thursday of every month, or the South Down Craft Collective’s Monthly Market in Ballynahinch, which has two markets left this year which are being held on the 4th May and 1st June!

The teams at Pheasants’ Hill Farm and Castlescreen Farm can also be found regularly at farmers’ markets across Northern Ireland including Hillsborough Farmers’ Market, the Inns Farmers’ Market in Newtownbreda, and the Causeway Speciality Market in Coleraine!

With your appetite well and truly whet, we recommend pencilling in some upcoming artisan markets into your diary or paying a visit to Indie Fude to stock up on some of your favourite local artisan baked goods, charcuterie, preserves and of course, sweet chocolatey treats.

With cupboards soon to be overflowing with tasty local produce, you can also take time out and plan a picnic with the help of our guide to scenic spots for dining al fresco.