Artisan food champion Jonny McDowell, who recently opened a stylish new deli in Comber, has long been a stalwart of markets and other food events across Northern Ireland. The new deli has also recently been shortlisted by the influential UK Guild of Fine Food in its prestigious Shop of the Year awards.
Among food markets he supports is the popular Hillsborough Farmers’ Market that’s organised by Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council in the park opposite the historic castle.
The enterprising foodie chose Hillsborough to launch Dickie D’s Grilled Cheese, an innovative ‘food to go’ venture with chef Jasper Castel.
Dickie D’s reflects Jonny’s long-standing love of Irish cheese, including local products such as Mike Thomson’s Young Buck from Newtownards, Dean Wright’s Ballylisk Triple Rose from Tandragee and Julie Hickey’s Dart Mountain in Dungiven.
“I saw the idea that led to Dickie D’s during a trip to the iconic Borough Market in London. It’s basically grilled cheese in sourdough slices with a range of fillings for a really tasty ‘eat on the go’ option.
“We’ve seen the street food sector growing rapidly in recent years and featuring many really delicious offerings from the high-end ingredients now to be found here,” he says.
Dickie D’s Grilled Cheese had its first outing at the market in Hillsborough at the end of May and it proved to be “a tremendous success” with shoppers and traders. “It’s something completely different for Northern Ireland,” Jonny adds.
The market, held on the last Saturday of the month over the summer, represents the council’s support for the burgeoning artisan food and drink industry here.
It’s in line with the work of the National Association of British Market Authorities (NABMA) and its Love Your Local Market campaign, which promotes markets as the lifeblood of our communities, towns and cities.
Among the Hillsborough stalwarts is Tom and Ollie of Broughshane, artisanal producers of pesto, tapenades, hummus and sun dried tomatoes.
Seasoned traders at speciality markets across Ireland, the company recently launched a 15-strong range of retail packs on the back of its success at Hillsborough and other venues, including St George’s in Belfast.
“We’ve found Hillsborough to be a great market for our range of handcrafted products,” says Tom and Ollie’s Tracey O’Boyle. “It’s a perfect setting with great footfall of shoppers interested in our Mediterranean-style foods, which we produce ourselves in Broughshane,” adds Tracey.
And it’s the same for Damien Tumilty of Castlescreen Farm Meats, located on a family beef and pig farm near Strangford in County Down. Damien’s ‘Wee Cows Big Beef’ stall specialises in delicious Dexter beef and gammon from the farm. “We look forward to Hillsborough market over the summer because shoppers appreciate the quality of our meats. It’s a very successful event for us,” he adds.
Jonathan Buchanan, who runs Buchanan’s Farm Shop with wife Lois, travels from the small farm near Upperlands in County Derry to sell his range of handmade flavoured sausages and small batch dry cured bacon.
An innovative family farm business, the newest addition to the product range is a new gluten free porger sausage made with dry-aged steak, pork shoulder and dry cured smoked bacon.
Eileen Hall of Cavanagh Free Range Eggs in Newtownbutler, Fermanagh, also finds the market “great business” because of the high volume of shoppers.
Crumbs Vegan Bakery founder and master baker Louise Dornan, from Lisburn, has carved quite a niche in the vegan baked goods sector over the past 18 months.
Louise’s creations are a feast for the eyes and her recipes are inspired by the resourceful bakers during the periods of rationing in our history and are made better for it!
Another bakery faring well at Hillsborough is Mange Tout from Downpatrick. Specialising in French patisserie, such as pear and almond tarts and gourmet pies and quiches, Mange Tout has established a roster of regular customers at Hillsborough.
Tina Breteche, who helps chef/husband Franck, a native of Nantes in France, describes Hillsborough as a “not to be missed market”.
“It’s among our best markets because shoppers have developed quite an appetite for our authentic French patisserie,” Tina adds.
Mike Thomson, who runs Mike’s Fancy Cheese in Newtownards, home of the acclaimed Young Buck blue cheese, is another regular at Hillsborough with a stall selling his own and other Irish cheeses.
Hillsborough also works for Alastair Crown of Corndale Farm Foods, who travels from Limavady to sell his home made salami and chorizo, and finds the market offers the profile of shoppers who appreciate excellent cured meats produced from his own herd of heritage pigs.
There’s also plenty of choice for those seeking a tasty snack at the event. The Hatch food truck, for instance, is run by professional chef Colin Johnstone alongside his wife Bronagh.
They pride themselves on cooking fresh to order and their produce is all sourced from local producers and freshly prepared by hand by The Hatch team for each day the food truck is out and about.
Their Traditional Buttermilk Southern Fried Chicken is superb as are the skin-on, hand-cut chips – for real decadence, we recommend the truffle and parmesan option.