Northern Ireland’s Year of Food and Drink is a celebration of all things local. June is Love Dairy month and after attending a fabulous Beer and Cheese night at The Spaniard, Belfast, organised by Discover NI, Tourism NI and Duffy Rafferty Communications, on Wednesday night, I soon realised I had been underestimating this creamy local delicacy.
When I arrived at The Spaniard, the sun was shining; what better way to top the day of than with some locally crafted cheese and beer? Heading upstairs, there was a selection of local producers showcasing some of their finest produce. My first stop was Farmageddon Brewery. Established three years ago, this company offers a tasty variety of beers. I really enjoyed the fruity Golden Pale Ale, however the Farmageddon stout, which had a lovely chocolate and coffee aroma, was also a surprise hit with me. I didn’t realise, until speaking to Susan Jackson from the company, how popular it is becoming to pair dishes with different types of beer. I must admit I love this idea!
From here, I made my way to the City Cheese stand. With an impressive wheel of Dutch Gouda style cheese on display, I was excited to find out more. Christo Swanepoel explained the very interesting history of this company, which is based in Millisle, as well as discussing the three different cheeses the company makes by hand, including the most popular, Angelique, which is named after Christo’s wife. Christo kindly shaved off some cheese for us to try; it was wonderfully crumbly and flavoursome, and was perfectly complemented by the beer on offer.
It was time to whet the whistle again and so I decided to try a glass of the Yardsman stout. Produced by the Hercules Brewing Company, the first craft brewery to open in Belfast for almost 160 years, this stout really took me my surprise. When it comes to beer I am more of a lager fan, however this stout was rich and smooth and very easy to drink. After speaking to Niall McMullan, it was clear how passionate he is about his produce, which also includes an award winning ale and lager. When it comes to the stout, if you haven’t yet tried this, I do recommend you give it a go – I will definitely be back for more.
It was time for more cheese and so my next pit stop was Fivemiletown Creamery. With a history that spans over 100 years, the cheeses I sampled, including the delicious and award winning Ballyoak, the first smoked brie in Europe, clearly illustrate age does matter when it comes to crafting cheese.
The final beer stop for the night came from the Clearsky Brewing company. I adored the simple but eye-catching bottles these beers came in. I was also very pleased to discover the beer tasted as good as the bottles looked. We sampled the lager beer, wheat beer and pale ale, however my favourite was definitely Fulcrum, the wheat beer. It was bursting with flavours and was a real treat on the palette.
The final sample of the evening came from Kearney Blue. This cheese, which has a unique appearance that evokes images of dry stone walls, offers a subtle and superbly creamy taste. Paul McLean explained how his process for making the cheese is greatly inspired by the German method of cheese making. In my opinion, he’s on to a winner.
After a wonderful evening, I left The Spaniard feeling not only spoilt but also much more knowledgeable about cheese and beer. Both have evolved so much and are crafted with so much thought, love and creativity. With so many gifted Creameries and Breweries in Northern Ireland, I have a newfound love (and respect) for our dairy industry, which will span much further than the month of June! For me, cheese will no longer be something to consume without much though, but a delicacy to savour, especially with a refreshing local beer!
For more information on the Year of Food and Drink 2016 or any of Northern Ireland’s finest producers visit http://www.discovernorthernireland.com/yearoffoodanddrink2016