Hill & Mountain
The stunning landscape of the Glens of Antrim and the Mourne Mountains are a tribute to ancient farmers who cleared boulders and collected seaweed from the nearby coast to fertilise the soil. The fringe slopes are now a patchwork of small green fields with boundaries of dry stone walls, wind-sculpted trees, and gorse hedgerows. Once hill farmers reared just enough sheep, cattle, pigs and hens to feed their families, if you look carefully, you can also see the tell-tale ridges of old lazy beds used for potatoes and vegetables.
Nowadays ‘Glens of Antrim’ is a well known brand of organic potatoes, grown by a collective of small-scale farmers. Numerous sheep still graze the pastures of dramatic valleys and cliff tops creating lawn-like fields, perfect picnic spots, and of course delicious lamb. The area is also known for its refreshing, natural spring water, once used to grow watercress, and now bottled by Antrim Hills.
In the foothills of the Sperrins, farmers in the North West make the best use of the heather-rich land to provide an idyllic nursery for the new born calves of native cattle. The animals are then fattened on the lower slopes where the sandy soil and soft rain produces lush grass and excellent, marbled beef.
Orchards & Arable Land
Drumlins - soft, roly-poly hills created by Ice-age glaciers, and river valleys are particularly attractive features of the Northern Irish landscape. They also provide good, fertile ground for fruit orchards in Armagh, and market gardens or dairy farms in Down and Tyrone.
Prepare to have your breath taken away in rural Armagh during the apple blossom season, when the delicate flowers of ancient, knarled trees burst into numerous shades of pink and their delicious perfume hangs on every breeze.
Plum, cherry and pear trees in orchards established during the plantation of Ulster still thrive and the ancient hedgerows groan with wild fruits before they’re plucked by local jam makers. In Down ‘pick-your-own’ farms ripen soft fruits and salads outdoors – providing great ingredients for summertime picnics.
Rivers & Fresh Water
In Lower Lough Erne, County Fermanagh a vast stretch of water scattered with rocky islands, you can fish for native Brown Trout, best baked with lemon, or served with a tasty mustard butter.
Fine specimens of fleshy coarse fish such as pike thrive in our numerous rivers and in the intricate maze of channels and reed beds of Upper Lough Erne. Great game fish such as Atlantic salmon can also be found in the Foyle and the Bann for summer barbecues.
In mid Ulster, surrounded by a soft border of reed beds and tiny islands Lough Neagh is the largest freshwater lake in Britain and Ireland, and an important source of unique native fish. Dollaghan – also known as Brown or Salmon Trout - can be smoked like salmon or simply fried in butter. Pollan, our fresh-water herring, is good with more robust sauces.
The lough is also one of the most productive eel fisheries in Europe, and this earthy, firm-fleshed fish, celebrated with eel suppers at Halloween, is making a comeback in local restaurants - fried, stewed or smoked.
Crystal clear water from the peat-brown River Bush is used to produce Northern Ireland’s famous whiskies. Whiskey blends and cream liqueurs are more often used in dessert recipes, but it’s hard to beat prime local beef with a savoury whiskey cream
Seawater Loughs, Coast & Sea
Of all seafood treats in Northern Ireland, locals prefer meaty, succulent salmon - particularly the lean, wild Atlantic fish which was once plentiful on the North Antrim Coast and in Lough Foyle. Hardy fishermen used to brave the treacherous, cliff-edged waters at Carrick-a-Rede in fragile boats so that they could bring home this precious resource. Even now it’s not unusual to find a gleaming, silver fish caught by a local enthusiast, but the Antrim Coast is better known for the excellent organic salmon harvested at Glenarm.
Dulse - a salty, chewy seaweed snack that you’ll find in pubs, green-grocers and at Ballycastle’s Auld Lammas Fair – is now being used by artisans to flavour cheese and savoury biscuits.
There’s lots of wild seafood further south, from the exposed rocky shores of the Ards Peninsula down to Carlingford Lough. Sweet, juicy langoustines – known locally as Portavogie Prawns; bright-eyed turbot, plaice and brill; cod, haddock, and hake are typical hauls in the harbour villages of Portavogie, Kilkeel, and Ardglass.
Traditionally there was also a thriving fishery for herring, and the area is well known for tasty Ardglass potted herrings – rolled fillets that are marinated and baked with vinegar, spices and breadcrumbs. Sea-fresh shellfish, cultivated or collected wild in the beautiful tidal loughs and bays of Strangford, Carlingford, and Dundrum are also more and more prominent on local menus.