There’s now a thriving and increasingly successful community of food producers from southern Africa here developing a range of original products such as boerewors coiled beef sausages, biltong, other cured meat snacks and recently sauces.
These ambitious entrepreneurs are also increasingly contributing to our cuisine and sales to Britain, the Irish Republic and even further afield.
The progressive community now includes Hellbent, a Belfast-based specialist in South African meats formed by ex-Ulster rugby players Louis Ludik and Schalke van der Merwe; Ke Nako Biltong, another successful venture in biltong and cured meats created in Ballyclare by South African butcher Ilse Van Standen and her partner Alanagh; and Moorcroft Foods, also from South Africa and specialising in biltong.
Moorcroft has set up a processing plant in Newtownards. Owned by Gavin Moorcroft, the company manufactures biltong and droewors coiled sausages.
In addition, spicy sauces straight out of Africa are now on sale in dozens of delicatessens and independent grocers here from a decision to locate a distribution operation for Europe in Belfast.
The Dr Trouble range of natural cooking and seasoning sauces are produced on a farm in northern Zimbabwe by owner and founder Robert Fletcher and are being marketed widely here by Albert Oberholzer, a business colleague who recently moved to Belfast with his wife and young family from Africa.
Albert has been travelling from Zimbabwe to Belfast for over 20 years and has family here.
He has vast experience in marketing and selling consumer goods in southern Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Zambia and South Africa.
Dr Trouble stock is being held in Belfast for distribution to the EU and other markets. The company, in addition, is exploring opportunities for manufacturing links in Northern Ireland.
The uniquely flavoured sauces have already won acclaim in Africa and other parts of the world and are now being marketed internationally and especially in key markets such as the UK, US and parts of Europe. The company has already set up a distribution network in many markets.
The sauces, Robert explains, are made from 100 per cent natural ingredients and are the only ones on the market today featuring pure lemon juice and without vinegar.
“We source ingredients locally in Zimbabwe, growing the chillies on our farm and buying wild lemons from the rural community,” Robert explains.
“Every village has a few lemon trees, and the lemons mostly go to waste as they are used very sparingly by the indigenous community.
“So, we buy the excess which are delivered mostly by ox drawn wagon. The lemons are organic although impossible to certify – only orchards can be certified and not single trees.
“Community involvement is important to us, and the sauce brings vitally important cash into a very marginalised rural area,” he adds.
He’s one of the few surviving farmers in the area after the land reforms of former President Robert Mugabe. “I had 47 neighbours once but today there are only three of us,” he continues.
“Our farm is 1,600 acres in northern Zimbabwe – just next to the Zambezi Escarpment.
“It’s a wild and beautiful part of Africa.
“I grow tobacco and chillies and manage our game conservancy, which makes up half the farm.
“The family arrived here in 1892 from Scotland, and my great grandfather, Robert Alexander Fletcher, worked closely with Cecil Rhodes as a surveyor and cartographer – he drew the first maps of the region.
“He used to travel on his own into the wilds for months at a time doing his work, taking few provisions, salt and a rifle,” Robert says.
The original recipe for the sauce was discovered by Robert about 20 years ago in the back of a diary dating from 1895.
He and his late father subsequently made the original sauce for family and friends.
“They began asking for bottles and each year we made a bit more,” he continues.
The link with his late father continues to this day with his signature part of the striking label design on the front of each bottle.
The sauce was then launched locally in Zimbabwe and proved so popular that the family decided to export it. “We invested in a state-of-the-art production unit on the farm, built to EU specifications, the first of its kind in the country.
“We don’t try to make the hottest sauce in the world, the idea is that a condiment should enhance a meal, rather than overpower it,” he adds.
Depending on the recipe, the chilli is either roasted over flames or hot smoked over English oak chips.
“We don’t use flavourings, chemicals, stabilisers, sugar or artificial preservatives in the sauces,” Robert explains.
The sauces are also free from gluten, nuts, eggs, lactose and suitable for both vegans and vegetarians. They are, in addition, fully tested for allergens.
There are currently two flagship flavours available here – Double Oak Smoked and Lemon Chilli. A new flavour, BBQ Royale, is on the way and available in hot and mild varieties.
The sauces are already selling well in South Africa, the United Arab Emirates and Singapore. Sales are also growing in the UK, US and EU.
In the pipeline is a Dr Trouble mayo, Troublenaise, which Robert promises will be “a tangy, piquant, slightly smoky mayo”.
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