Let the judging commence

Let the judging commence

I have been judging at the Great Taste Awards again this year. It seems that ever more people understand the benefit of submitting a product and getting an award if simply to gain some sort of stand out in the plethora of products that sit on the supermarket shelves.

The judging is done blind so you don’t see the brand or packaging, but are simply awarding really well made, great tasting product. Sadly you have to wade through stuff that won’t win in order to find those pearls who will receive a star and ideally 2 or 3 stars.

Delicious duck eggs

Delicious duck eggs

It’s funny how euphoric a judging table can be when they find a great product. You instinctively get it when something really well done crosses your palette and over the past few days we were lucky enough to have a few of those. An incredible pistachio ice cream…. a 25 year old balsamic vinegar from Pedro Ximenez grapes…. a coconut & vanilla yogurt … a clever combo of passion fruit & tarragon sorbet (who knew that those two complemented each other so well?)…. some really wonderful cheeses… beef …. pork/bacon… and duck eggs. The list goes on. Sadly the list of scary stuff is also there, but you have to block that out.

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One word – why?!

The whole process takes a few months to be concluded due to the sheer scale of the awards now that they are so established. In fact the Guild of Fine Food are celebrating their 20th year of hosting these awards which deserves an award in itself. The team are well versed on handling the thousands of products that cross their threshold for judging which includes unpacking them, cooking them, preserving their secrecy and then managing all the admin that follows. All we have to do is sit at a table, eat 40 odd products and type in comments. I always see judging as a representative of the hosts so that if someone does buy a product that has one of those stickers then the Guild can be proud of what they have bought. I also think it is critical for us to provide feedback to the producer which we do on a computer system that they can then access to get all the feedback.

Stripes of Rapeseed gold - it makes me smile

Stripes of Rapeseed gold – it makes me smile

The other joy of going to the awards is driving down there to deepest darkest Dorset just as the rapeseed fields come into bloom. Even on a dark dingy and very foggy early morning, the vibrant yellow fields lifted my spirits. Sadly they weren’t as fulfilled when they tasted some of the rapeseed oils but you can’t have everything. Certainly those flavoured with chilli came with a kickstart.

Chilli is always one of those ingredients that producers think will add value to their product. They seem to put it in anything: salmon, oils, chocolate, even ice cream. Chilli has been a bit of a trend for a few years now and every year I like to discover what the next one is. I am told last year was the year of the salted caramel so was gutted that I wasn’t free to judge due to work commitments as I love salted caramel. In fact I fell in love with it some 9 or 10 years ago when I did a trip to San Francisco with work and tried Michael Recchiuti’s version at his Ferry Building shop.

Chocolate the Recchuiti way

Chocolate the Recchiuti way

All these years later, who knew it would become so popular. And there were quite a few stragglers pushing that flavour this year too. In fact there were quite a lot generally pushing variations on a salt theme So what was the fashion this year,  you ask? Well it was for far healthier/fresher ingredients.

Sometimes it was simply adding in freshness through herbs like the aforementioned passion fruit & tarragon, or the chocolate I tried with rosemary flavoured salted caramel. And other times it’s the use of the latest trendy superfood ingredients, with Baobab featuring a few times. This African fruit really has seen an explosion in the past year so watch this space. But the most predominant fashion was in the whole gluten free, wheat free, dairy free, vegan food fad with a whole host of products boasting what wasn’t in there as much as what was. Funny! So in deference to all of this, I end my entry this week with a full on dairy indulgence.

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