Northern Ireland’s cuisine has evolved greatly in recent years, and one woman from County Down is thrilled to be serving up her home cooking to hungry, globe-trotting foodies.
A former French and Irish language teacher, Tracey Jeffery has lived her whole life in Northern Ireland. As such, she is more than familiar with the local flavours.
“I have always made traditional Irish breads at home in my farmhouse kitchen for my young family,” she shares via email. “And I had always dreamed of bringing guests into my home and inviting them to see the beautiful landscapes and coastline of County Down.”
In 2016, she decided to bring that dream to life.
“I wanted people to be able to enjoy and appreciate our amazing food and drink, and everything that I offer comes from the immediate local area – less than five miles away.”
Co. Down boasts a number of excellent local food providers, and – as part of her Northern Ireland Food Tours business – Jeffery takes guests straight to their doorsteps.
“They meet local producers, hear their story, and enjoy their award-winning food and drink. Northern Ireland has evolved beyond recognition over the past few years; since we have had peace, we have enjoyed an increase in the number of visitors year after year. Our food is of such a high quality, due to the tremendous amount of rainfall that we receive. Last year, we came first for Food and Drink in the World Travel and Tourism Awards.”
Starting her tours in Belfast before weaving through to Mournes mountains, pitstops include a meetup with a local cider producer, and an expedition harvesting oysters on Coney Island.
The most unique part of Jeffery’s taste tour, however, is something only she can dole out.
“I offer a stand-alone immersive experience – traditional Irish bread-making in my own home.”
“I live in a 17th-century thatched cottage on the shores of Strangford Lough, only 30 minutes from Belfast. I invite guests into my kitchen where they will enjoy homemade breads and sweet treats.”
Like Eire to the south, Northern Irish cuisine is particularly known for, as you might surmise, potatoes; this even extends into their baked goods. The local Comber variety of potatoes, according to Jeffery, are as unique to the region as Champagne and Parmesan cheese is to their pockets of the globe. They are also perfect for Champ bread which Jeffery helps her guest prepare out of her own kitchen.
“They will also make soda breads and wheaten breads, which they can take home with them along with a copy of the recipes. Guests love it, especially as they feel very welcome in my kitchen. It is a unique experience, as it can only take place with me. I have recently been awarded 5 stars from Tourism NI for my traditional bread-making experience – one of only 14 private companies in Northern Ireland to achieve this accolade.”
As intrusive as it might seem to lead a foodie tour through your own house – and she is the first to admit, with two young boys in the house alongside guests, it can be a challenge to keep everything tidy – Jeffery loves her calling, and believes it reflects the innate hospitality the region is known for.
“I get to meet lovely guests – they come to me as visitors and leave as friends! I love what I am doing, and it honestly does not feel like work.”
She is more than eager to tout the fantastic flavours of her home to the rest of the world but believes that more marketing is in order if Northern Ireland is to truly benefit from the bounty at its disposal.
“We still do not shout about what we have here – we need to recognize that we have so much to offer our visitors. Now is the best time to come to Northern Ireland, as we are still much more affordable than most destinations, and visitors are always blown away by our food and drink.”