LONG gone are the days when our region was written off as a culinary desert, with nothing to offer the serious food lover in the way of quality locally-sourced produce or fine dining.
These days it’s thankfully a very different picture as we embrace, and indeed, taste the benefits that local, seasonal, fresh produce – low on food miles and big on flavour – can offer.
The region has much to be proud of with a plethora of fine food and drink producers and suppliers on the doorstep. And doing their bit to champion the North East’s finest fare are the farmers’ markets, farm shops, butchers, bakers, game dealers, fishmongers, independent retailers, restaurateurs and chefs only too happy to broadcast the message that local is best.
From award-winning heather-fed lamb, beef, game, vegetables, cheese, puddings and preserves, to our region’s freshly-caught haul of seafood, the North East is home to some of the country’s best large and small artisan food and drink producers and suppliers. We can dine out in style on dishes of fresh seafood, courtesy of Lindisfarne Oysters and Holy Island Mussels, meats from Kielder Organic Meats and Northumbrian Quality Meat, honey from Chainbridge Honey Farm on the banks of the Tweed, Carroll’s Heritage potatoes, add Wheelbirks Jersey milk and Lanchester Dairies milk to our Pumphrey’s Coffee, sip on a Fentimans refreshing lemonade, and nibble on the fantastic award-winning cheeses from the likes of Doddington and Northumberland Cheese Company. And that’s just a flavour of what’s on offer.
We can fill our shopping baskets to overflowing at the region’s many farm shops, most of which sell food they have grown and reared themselves, complemented with produce from neighbouring farmers and local artisan producers.
From Moorhouse farm shop near Morpeth, Knitsley farm shop in County Durham, The Country Barn at Widdrington, North Acomb farm shop at Stannington, Blagdon farm shop at Milkhope Centre in Northumberland, and George Payne butchers on Brunton Park in Gosforth, again to name a few.
And more and more of our top chefs are recognising that sourcing ingredients that were sown, nurtured and raised locally is the way forward.
We’re lucky enough to have a number of fantastic restaurateurs and chefs each doing their bit to champion local produce on their menus. The likes of which include Bill Oldfield of Oldfields restaurants, Terry Laybourne of the 21 Hospitality group with his clutch of eateries, David Kennedy of the Black Door Group, Tony Binks of The Barrasford Arms in Northumberland, the husband-and-wife team at The Feathers Inn, Hedley-on-the-Hill, Andy Hook of Blackfriars restaurant in Newcastle and Richard Sim of Six restaurant at The Baltic, Gateshead, are just some of these. And not to mention our home-grown TV celebrity chefs, Kenny Atkinson of Great British Menu fame, of Rockliffe Hall, near Darlington, and Si King (one half of the Hairy Bikers) from Prudhoe in Northumberland, both ambassadors for the region and champions of the finest North East produce.
The Journal, too, along with organisations like Taste North East (formerly known as North East England Food and Drink Group) and Northumbria Larder, have all been doing their bit to promote the benefits of buying local.
It’s two-and-a-half years since we launched our ‘buy, use, eat local’ campaign. The aim of the Taste campaign was – and still is – simple: to get everyone from consumers to retailers, restaurateurs and hoteliers to boost the market for the North East’s home-produced food and drink.
The paper’s Taste food and drink festivals, of which we have held six in the region, are fantastic showcases for local food and drink producers. This year’s Taste of the County festival held in May at the County Show in Corbridge attracted crowds in the tens of thousands.
And our next festival of food and drink promises to be another truly gastronomic affair when it takes place at the Metrocentre, Gateshead on September 25 and 26.
Dozens of artisan producers will show off their wares at the event. They will be joined by some of the region’s top chefs who will be demonstrating their skills.
Sir Donald Curry, chairman of Taste North East, added: “There’s a big difference between food that happens to be produced locally and produce that is local but also grown or nurtured with care and passion. For the dedicated craftsmen among North East England’s producers it truly is their passion, and the proof of the pudding is definitely in the eating!”