The Armagh Food and Cider Festival will celebrate some of the amazing produce from the area. In a collaboration between Armagh Banbridge & Craigavon Council, The Food Heartland Hospitality forum, local businesses and artisan producers, a number of unique events will take place across the county. In an advance preview of some of the treats in store, a few select guests were taken to meet some of the people involved and experience the stunning venues of the festival.
First stop was Crannagael House, where the “Night in the Orchard” event will take place. This will be an exclusive chance to dine on the Crannagael lawns with delicious food, ciders and music. I had never been to Crannagael House before and loved seeing around the orchard, the site of the first Bramley apple seedling to be planted in Northern Ireland. On arrival, we were taken into a teepee and given the chance to meet with local producers, hear their stories and sample their produce. I was delighted to get a chance to chat with some of my favourite producers, Long Meadow Cider, Burren Balsamic, Hartnett Oils and MacIvors cider. Better still, Stephen Downs, Executive Chef at Yellow Door, served us a selection of delectable local treats- quails egg & sausage on potato bread, Clandeboye yoghurt pots with compote & Whites granola, Devilled Annaghmore mushrooms to name but a few. These were delicious and really showcased the quality of the local produce.
John and Jane, owners of Crannagael House, showed us around the orchard and their gardens where they keep guineafowl, chickens and grow their own vegetables. The vegetables started as a hobby and proved so successful that they are now selling to local restaurants. I grow a few vegetables myself but they really inspired me with the unusual varieties that they are producing.
Our second stop on our tour was the Armagh Cider company where the “Grouchos at the Orchards” event will take place. For one night only, Grouchos restaurant will offer a food sharing and cider pairing event in the barn. Philip and Helen Troughton greeted us with some yummy hot mulled cider and told us a bit about the family business which has been around for over 100 years (Philip is 4th generation and their son is 5th generation). We then got shown around the factory and briefed on how cider is produced. It’s no secret that I love cider so I was in heaven during this visit. I used to work for Coca-Cola so am no stranger to a factory floor (I have visited Coke plants all around the world) but I was excited to see a product I love on the production line! At the end of the tour, Grouchos on the Square prepared some local cheese and bread along with a delicious apple cocktail made with Boatyard Gin, apple juice and Burren Balsamic with raspberry and fennel. (I love Burren Balsamic and recently made a drizzle cake with the strawberry and mint version. You can find the recipe here)
Next stop was the Moody Boar restaurant in the Palace Demesne, where there will be a “Pairing under the stars” event. The restaurant will host a wine, cider, tapas and chocolate evening within the stunning surrounds of the Palace Greenhouse. On arrival, we were greeted by Sean and Ramune who served us delicious sweet stuffed vine leaves filled with fig, pistachios, cinnamon and cream before showing us their greenhouse and pop-up restaurant venue. This was really cool and Sean created and served us individual apple puddings with frangipani, Bramley apple & blackberry coulis with aerated custard. What a treat!
Stop four was the city centre where we enjoyed a quick tour and spotted some of the famous gargoyles and angels dotted around before arriving at the Armagh Robinson library where the “Harvest Concert” will take place. We were met by actors in period costume who entertained us with lessons in etiquette from Georgian times. I love this library which was founded by Archbishop Robinson to display his own collection of books and fine art for public use.
Our final stop was 4Vicars restaurant where the “canapé reception and harvest supper”will take place before and after the harvest concert. I have been keen to visit this restaurant for a while as it is the current holder of the best casual dining experience in Ireland. I wasn’t disappointed. Owners, Gareth and Kasia laid on a pretty special event for us, allowing us to hear from the producers of the food we would be served, learning more about their businesses. On arrival we were served an apple cocktail and a selection of canapes, including smoked Lough Neagh trout and Kilkeel crab with cucumber. After hearing from the producers, we were served a veritable feast . Lough Neagh Pollan with carrot and sauerkraut slaw and a Cavanagh free range egg, followed by Tynedale goat kid meatball with yoghurt sauce and Crannagael House Swiss chard. If you don’t think goat is for you, I urge you to give it a try. 80% of the world’s population eat it and it really is tasty. Next up was Kilkeel hake with Crannagael House fennel and to finish, a rather lovely plum and almond tart with Crannagael House plums with home made ice-cream.
I will admit to being fully replete after our spread but the quality of the food and drinks on offer has got me very excited about the Food and Cider Festival. If you want to find out more about the festival and book tickets, click here
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