Five products from Northern Ireland are now in the running to be crowned Supreme Champion in the 2020 UK Great Taste Awards, the most important event in the food and drink calendar.
The prestigious competition now involves food producers from well beyond the UK and Ireland with products entered this year from an amazing 106 countries in Europe.
The champion runners from here feature companies which reached the final stage in previous awards. They are: Wild Sika Venison French Rack from Baronscourt Estate in Omagh; Hannan Meats’ Koji Pork Ribs from Moira; Buchanan’s Irish Peat Smoked Bacon from Kilrea; the Little Bakehouse’s Abernethy Lemon Curd from Dromore; and Craic Foods’ Black Garlic & Porcini Sea Salt produced in Craigavon.
Peter Hannan, of Hannan Meats, of course, is the only local producer in this group actually to lift the title in the past. He’s won the top award twice since 2012. The first Northern Ireland winner was McCartney’s Butchers, also based in Moira, in 2011.
“Great Taste is a wonderful way to showcase a quality product and has generated leads which we’ve been able to turn into worthwhile business over many years,” said Peter.
“I’d certainly urge local companies to get involved next year. They’ll also benefit from feedback on their products from the experienced judges
One judge said Hannan’s successful product was “the most delicious piece of pork I can remember trying”.
Paul Clarke, another who’s racked up an impressive list of awards for quality products under his En Place and Craic businesses, adds: “It’s tremendously encouraging to see so many different foods and drink from Northern Ireland doing well in the awards.
“The one and two-star products include dairy, bakery, meat and poultry, jams, dressings, fruit drinks and beer.
“I am sure many of these will prosper from success in Great Taste. Winning at the awards has certainly helped the profile of our businesses in Cookstown and Craigavon very significantly.”
Founded in 1994 and seen as a stamp of excellence, the Guild of Fine Food’s Great Taste Awards values taste above all else, and all products are removed from packaging before tasting.
The 144 judges – food critics, chefs, restaurateurs, retail buyers, cooks, producers, food writers, journalists and “influencers” – decide which products merit one, two or three stars.
Judging began just before Covid-19 lockdown, and the process moved to remote and socially-distanced judging sessions.
Some 12,777 products were entered this year. Regional winners, including the Great Taste 2020 Supreme Champion, will be announced at a virtual event this month.
Invest NI’s director of Food and Drink, John Hood, said the awards “demonstrate the outstanding commitment of local companies to innovative and create delicious food and drink, especially at this very challenging time for everyone.
“This is a terrific achievement by our companies, especially smaller enterprises, and showcases their tremendous resilience and determination to continue to do business, especially in highly competitive markets in Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland,” he adds.
Susie Taggart, owner of the Little Bakehouse in Dromore, wowed the judges with her lemon curd developed with Abernethy Butter and gained three stars. One judge described the product as delivering “plenty of lovely rich butteryness and a massive burst of fresh, bright, fruity lemon”.
“I was thrilled to receive three stars for the second year in a row after winning last year with one of my luxury cakes,” she says. “The award is a marvellous endorsement of the flavours and quality of my spread,” she adds.
The final honours, including the Great Taste 2020 Supreme Champion, will be announced at the virtual Great Taste Golden Fork awards event.
The Great Taste Awards are recognised as an immensely important stamp of excellence among retailers and consumers.
Dozens of Food NI members were among those collecting stars. They include the likes of Burren Balsamic in Richhill; Morelli’s Ice Cream, Coleraine; Maud’s Ice Cream, Carrickfergus; Rooney Fish in Kilkeel for Millbay Oysters; Quails’ Fine Foods’ 28 Day Himalayan Salt Aged Sharing Sirloin from Banbridge; Carol’s Stock Market in Derry; Annie’s Delights, Portglenone; Granny Shaw’s Fudge Factory’ in Ballymena; Ann’s Pantry of Larne; and Clandeboye Greek Style and natural yoghurts from Bangor.
There were two stars, too, for Hercules Brewing in Belfast and Northbound Brewing in Derry.
A first time winner of a Great Taste gold star, Ryan McCracken of McCracken’s Real Ales in Portadown says: “I am delighted with this recognition from a panel of top food judges. It’s a tremendous boost as we implement exciting plans to grow our business here and in Britain.”
Food NI’s Michele Shirlow says: “The current pandemic may be continuing but the Great Taste stars shine brightly for Northern Ireland’s producers who, once again, have demonstrated what a talented region we are when it comes to food and drink.
“It is so pleasing to see their innovation, hard work and great taste acknowledged in these prestigious awards.