Oysters, bacon, ice cream, lamb, seaweed salt and coffee tickled the taste buds of over 300 food experts and gained coveted three stars for excellence and exceptional taste in this year’s UK Great Taste Awards.
A total of 176 products from local companies gained either one, two or three stars in the annual taste ‘Oscars’ organised by the influential UK Guild of Fine Food and judged by a panel of 355 chefs, food writers and journalists over many months.
The products were among 14,000 entries from companies from the UK, Ireland and further afield. Less than two per cent achieved the top three-star rating in the prestigious awards.
Entries were received from 106 different countries, including Estonia, Greece, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Madagascar, the Philippines, Portugal, Singapore, Spain, Switzerland, the US, and Vietnam.
Overall, 21 companies across the island of Ireland achieved the top three-stars. Fewer that 6,000 of the total entries were awarded stars – 1,138 gained two-stars and 4,027 were rated one-star. There were six three-stars for Northern Ireland.
The 14,113 products entered for the awards were assessed at 86 socially distanced judging sessions at four venues in Britain.
The three-star products will be re-judged to determine the winner of the regional awards and the supreme champion, which will be announced on October 17.
Meat products were particularly successful, with three-star winners in this category being Peter Hannan of Hannan Meats in Moira, a former two-time winner of the supreme championship at the awards, and recently awarded an MBE for his contribution to economic development in Northern Ireland.
Hannan was awarded three-stars for his original sugar pit bacon rack.
Murley Mountain rack of lamb from Lisdergan Butchery, in Omagh, was another three-star winner from Northern Ireland.
Millbay Oysters, developed by Andrew Rooney of Rooney Fish in Kilkeel, was again listed among the three-stars – he gained the same recognition last year.
Another Kilkeel company, Crawford’s Rock, was a three-star winner for its seaweed salt, while Pure Roast Coffee, founded by Martin Symington in Lisburn, was awarded three-stars for its Valentia, a Brazilian bean coffee.
Coleraine-based Morelli’s Ice Cream was another three-star winner for its caramelised hazelnut, an innovative flavour created by managing director Naldo Morelli.
Virtually every part of Northern Ireland was represented in the popular but immensely challenging awards, and many are members of food and drink promotion body Food NI.
Michele Shirlow, Food NI’s chief executive, praising the achievements of local companies in the awards, says: “This is another excellent performance by our companies, especially artisans and smaller enterprises, in what is among the world’s most important and exacting competitions for food and drink.
“I am delighted, in particular, to see so many of the companies that we’ve been working with to ensure success over so many years featured in the awards.
“We’ve seen many award winners in Great Taste going on to grow sales here, in Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland.
“And we look forward to continuing to work closely with them in both short and long terms.
“Our strategic focus includes assisting Invest Northern Ireland at trade shows in Britain,” adds Michele.
She continues: “Great Taste offers a unique benchmarking and product evaluation service that encourages confidence and commercial success for quality food and drink businesses.
“This in turn generates a greater awareness for products locally, regionally, nationally and internationally.”
Since 1994, more than 150,000 products have been put through a robust judging process.
Each entry is fastidiously blind-tasted. The judges look for truly great taste, regardless of branding or packaging.
They take into account texture, appearance and, of course, the quality of the ingredients; they will note a good aroma, a decent bite, or a particularly smooth or crunchy texture. But above all else the question remains – does the product taste truly great?
Food critics, chefs, restaurateurs, retail buyers, cooks, producers and a host of food writers, journalists and social media influencers were among the 355 critical palates to have rigorously blind tasted and judged the 14,113 entries from 108 countries, while providing detailed written feedback for each producer.
Every Great Taste award-winning product is now able to display the unmistakable black and gold logo, a stamp of excellence that is recognised by retailers and consumers alike.
A wide range of these winning products are already available to buy in delis, farm shops and independent retail outlets across the country.
All Great Taste three-star award-winning products will be re-judged to find this year’s regional Golden Fork Trophy winners and the Great Taste Supreme Champion 2021.
Northern Ireland has lifted the supreme title on three separate occasions – McCartney’s Butchers, owned by George McCartney, and twice by Peter Hannan for guanciale and sirloin steak.
These final results will be announced at the Great Taste Golden Fork Reception on Sunday, October 17, set to be held at the Yorkshire Event Centre in Harrogate following the first day of the Fine Food Show North, a trade-only exhibition organised by the Guild of Fine Food and likely to include a significant Northern Ireland presence.
Winning a Great Taste Award is a gateway to extensive promotional opportunities provided by the Guild of Fine Food and also involving the Food NI marketing team.
These include the guild’s glossy publication on the awards. The guild also organises presentations of winning products at other food and drink shows in Britain.