It’s a land of opportunity – a place where businesses seems to be thriving and everyone is on a mission to invest in the food fabric of the Isle of Man.
Just a 40-minute plane journey from Newcastle, the self-governing island – which is part of the British Isles but not Great Britain – has breathtaking landscapes, Victorian railways, trams and a population of 85,000.
It’s a place where the Bee Gees grew up, where Queen Elizabeth is no longer Queen but Lord of Mann and where the Manx Government’s Food Matters strategy aims to grow the island’s food and drink sector from £75million to £137million by 2020 – increasing jobs, investing in local producers and making the island more self sustainable.
It’s a little slice of paradise in between the UK and Ireland – where there’s a close-knit community, and where people are hugely driven to make world-class produce.
Vicky Quirk is one of them. She’s the founder of Betty Pie Co, which she set up three years ago.
“We make the pies with Manx ingredients. Manx beef and lamb and meat from the sixhorned Loaghtan sheep native to the island. Everything we use is from the island except chickens, we import English free range,” says Vicky, who’s stood in her Betty Pie T-shirt pressing her pies in an original iron press.
She’s making 300 a week, selling them at £8 a pop at events on the island – including the TT, which sees 45,000 people descend on the Isle of Man for the races.
Some of her pies feature cider, which is no surprise as her husband, Benn, is owner of Manx Cider Co, which is producing 7,000 litres a year and sold to pubs.
“It’s like scrumpy,” says Benn, as we chat in his unit in Peel, which overlooks the luscious landscape. “It’s craft cider, unpasteurised, unfiltered and there are no sulphites,” adds Benn, who hopes to be bottling and exporting by September.
The couple are just two of more than 100 key producers on the island – who all feature in the Food Matters guide. It’s an annual booklet championing the artisan producers fundamental to the island’s growth.
My Government guide takes me to cocktail bar Bath and Bottle, in the island’s capital, Douglas, where a ceremony to launch the Isle of Man Provenance Food label is being held.
The label endorses food that’s Manx-made or Manx produce (grown on the island) and Chief Minister Howard Quayle, who has a longstanding association with the farming industry, says the label is a major milestone in the delivery of the Food Matters strategy.
“From traditional produce that’s been around for generations, and for which the island is known, to new and artisan brands, Isle of Man food and drink is flourishing.
“Growth in food and drink is creating jobs, giving customers greater local choice and boosting our reputation as a special place to live, work and visit.”
Miles Petitt is the founder of Noa’s Bakehouse, which he opened in Douglas five years ago after moving from London, having worked in the film industry.
He transformed the derelict site into a hipster bakery and now employs 40 staff – some who deliver bread on skateboards.
He specialises in sourdough, makes pastries such as croissants and his breakfasts feature sausages and eggs from Tracey Ridgeway, who raises Tamworth pigs and chickens at Close Leece Farm.
The bakery also hosts the weekly Food Assembly, where people pick up local produce that they’ve ordered online.
At Foraging Vintners, Ozzy Ian Swindells and American MaryBeth Coll are making wine and mead at the Old Coal Shed, a unit they’ve transformed into a winery, trendy bar and event space.
They’re using local rhubarb to make sparkling wine – and although they’ve only just opened, they plan to produce 50,000 bottles a year, with 40,000 being exported to the UK.
Peter Birch founded The Original Fudge Factory after retiring from his job in the Forestry Commission seven years ago.
He has 48 flavours of fudge – including lemon meringue and chocolate orange – and he’s making 7.5 tonnes a year. “I felt fudge was missing on the island,” he says, as I’m stood in his small unit in Ballasalla.
Peter also makes toffee and sells chocolates and the famous Manx Knobs – a celebrated souvenir that comes in the form of an old-fashioned humbug.
Manx kippers at Moore’s Kipper factory, a historical yet still active landmark of Peel, are made using traditional, oak-fired, chimneysmoked methods.
The Apple Orphanage – run by Will Faulds and Charlotte Traynor – only uses fruit grown on the island for its range of natural presse and cider. The couple run a fruit exchange, swapping drinks for apples and rhubarb plants.
And the Government is investing heavily in all this, not just in the form of grants, as Chief Minister Howard Quayle tells me. “Our private numbers are available. Being small makes us nimble. We can respond directly.”
You’ll find all the best places on the island at www.iomfoodanddrink.com
Manx Kippers are available by mail order for £7.50 a pair; www.manxkippers.com
Betty Pie Co pies with mash, £8, available at Isle of Man events (facebook.com/bettypieco)
To find out more about Foraging Vintners, visit www.foragingvintners.com
Apple Orphanage’s online shop will be available soon; www.appleorphanage.com
Order Manx fudge (or send as a gift to someone anywhere in the world) at www.manxfudgefactory.com (starting from £3.99 a box).
For more information visit www.iomfoodanddrink.com