NI Food Stories
Robert McColm/ Atlantic Ocean Delights
For centuries seaweed has been harvested in Northern Ireland both as a unique food delicacy and also for its health giving properties. Today that tradition is continued by Robert McColm, who farms over 15 miles of coastline from Ballygally to Carnlough in County Antrim. From dulse, an edible local seaweed used by many of our leading chefs, to moss used in traditional desserts to seaweed-based tapenades with green olives and sea lettuce, it seems produce from the ocean garden Robert harvests is once more becoming part of our local food offering.
It was 11 years ago that Robert, born and brought up in Larne, decided to make a business out of seaweed. Like his French wife, an enthusiastic diver, he realised there was a way he could utilise his love of the sea for a living. Initially collecting dulse, an edible seaweed that grows on rocks, he now supplies a range of seaweed and sea vegetables to many shops in Belfast and has a stall on Saturdays at St George’s Market. He also supplies Nick Price of Nick’s Warehouse with mixed seaweeds for his breads and it was his dulse used by Paul Rankin when cooking an Irish meal for US stars of stage and screen at a New York fundraiser for the Lyric Theatre.
Hundreds of seaweeds
He has also become something of an expert on seaweed over this time, studying with a leading expert in the field for six months when starting out and learning about the several hundred different species of seaweed. He follows the strip farming method, harvesting along one area of coastline and then moving on to let the seaweed re-grow. He also weeds and prunes, like a normal garden, to prevent alien species establishing themselves.
His produce is in great demand by researchers who use seaweed as they strive to discover cures for a range of diseases and companies who use its cellulite beating qualities for skin treatments and who use the kelp royale he harvests to extract saccharine.
Great British Menu award
Robert is a big fan of using seaweed such as dulse in cooking himself. “It’s a great non-fat, vegetarian alternative to using bacon in foods like quiches," he says. "I smoke it in our smoker and it tastes like smoked haddock or kipper. It’s health giving properties are amazing too". Robert, who has featured on the Hairy Bikers tv programme and BBC Radio Four’s Good Food programme, also sourced moss (the only vegetarian version of gelatin) and dulse for a version of Carrigeen Moss with oatmeal and dulse oatcakes made by leading chef Richard Corrigan which won the Great British Menu dessert award (Check out this link for the recipe: www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/database/carrageenmosspudding_86186.shtml).
Atlantic Ocean Delights
T: 028 9043 5704