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Artisan foodies create buzz at Royal Hillsborough Castle Honey Fair

Award-winning artisan food and drink companies across Northern Ireland are quick to acknowledge the role of honey bees in the wellbeing of this immensely important industry.

The Honey Fair at Hillsborough Castle comes at a time when our bees, alarmingly, are under threat of extinction.

Researchers have warned that without action 21 species of these pollinators could eventually become extinct.

The decline, according to the research, is the result of habitat loss, pollution, disease, and climate change.

Bees are a vital component in our food production. In fact, it’s estimated that bees are responsible for a third of the food that we eat. The loss of bees, therefore, could have a devastating impact on the health of our countryside and food security.

Among those artisans taking part is Armagh Cider Company, which will be showcasing the vital role of bees play in the production of the apples on which its award-winning ciders and juices depend.

The Honey Fair, therefore, is an important initiative for our local food and drink industry and the wider community.

The imaginative event is the biggest presentation of local food and drink – organised by marketing body Food NI – since before the coronavirus pandemic began in 2019.

The Armagh Cider team certainly appreciates the role of bees in pollinating the orchards.

Armagh’s Mark Troughton says: “Bees are probably the world’s most important pollinators of food crops and especially apples that we depend on for our cider.

“We’ve been growing apples since 1898 in what has become a real blossom to bottle business.

“Our apples are used in apple juice and a range of award-winning ciders.”

Based on extensive orchards at Ballinteggart, near Portadown in ‘Orchard Country’, the family-owned farming, processing and bottling business has won a string of accolades for its ciders, including ‘Best of British Ciders’ for its Carson’s Crisp in an independent review.

Other artisan enterprises at the unique show appreciating the role of bees as crucial pollinators include Irish Black Butter from Portrush, which features Armagh bramley apples in the ingredients of its award-winning sauce, and Symphonia Gin in Moy, a distiller of successful gins using local bramley and jonagold apples.

The distillery recently won a major international award for its unique apple rum blending local jonagold apples with Caribbean rum.

Cavanagh Eggs in Newtownbutler will be taking part in its first food show since before the pandemic.

Eileen Hall, a director of the poultry business which has a series of awards for producing Ireland’s best eggs, said: “We are delighted to be part of this initiative which supports the wellbeing of the countryside and the food industry here.”

The Fermanagh family enterprise supplies eggs to most of the main supermarkets.

Food and drink products on show represent most of the key sectors in what is Northern Ireland’s single biggest manufacturing sector.

The food industry generates in excess of £5 billion to the local economy and provides employment to upwards of 100,000 people throughout an extensive supply chain that reaches virtually every part of the community.

Food and drink from here, moreover, is currently exported to over 60 countries worldwide, the biggest marketplace being Great Britain.

The line-up of other artisan products at the fair ranges from staples such as handmade breads, cheese and meats to unique snacks, treats, sauces, minerals and kombucha, a fermented tea.

The organisers, Historic Palaces, are ensuring social distancing and hand sanitation in line with current guidance. Households and bubbles will be seated in clearly marked and socially distanced seating squares within the talks/performance area in a popular and spectacular setting of Hillsborough Castle and Gardens in the historic town recently named Royal Hillsborough due to its links with the Royal Household.

The unique event is supported by the Northern Ireland Regional Food Programme.

Head of Hillsborough Castle and Gardens, Laura McCorry, says: “The Hillsborough Honey Fair is an opportunity for us to bring together some of our top local foodies, foraging experts and chefs in a way that we’ve missed over recent years.

“Hillsborough is already a haven for foodies, so to be able to create this event at the heart of it is very special.

“Visitors will be able to discover and enjoy some of Northern Ireland’s top food producers and even get a taste from some of the food trucks we’ll have on site throughout the weekend.”

As well as tantalising the tastebuds, visitors can learn from Hillsborough Garden’s Beekeeper Gwen Earnshaw more about the world of bees and honey, including a fascinating look at the castle’s very own hives.

Plus guided walks in the Walled Garden will be held by the castle’s gardeners.

Michele Shirlow, chief executive of Food NI, adds: “We are thrilled to be working with Historic Royal Palaces to help create an event which not only celebrates our rich food heritage and local producers in Northern Ireland but will also share that vital education needed to sustain our lands and wildlife that help our farmers and growers to nurture and produce their quality products in the future.

“Food NI strives to raise

the profile of local food and drink companies, and events such as the Hillsborough Honey Fair are an essential part of this, offering the producers the chance to interact with a captive audience and showcase, sample and sell their products to the public.”

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