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Great Taste of the North

Great Taste AwardsNorthern Ireland may not be the biggest geographical area in the annual Great Taste Awards but, says Barbara Collins, that doesn’t stop them winning dozens of gold stars

The famed Hannan Meats of Moira Co Down pretty much swept the board in the 2014 Great Taste Awards, with sixteen entries winning a staggering 35 gold stars - but, although Peter Hannan decided to stand back from the competition this year, there were still plenty of gongs for the Northern Ireland stable in this year’s Great Taste Awards.

Baronscourt Estate in Omagh led the posse, with one of its three entries, Wild Sika Venison French, not only taking 3 stars - but also selected as only Northern Ireland product listed in the Top 50 Foods in the UK. Judges complimented it for its “iron richness” and perfectly “gamey” and “buttery texture” and they also awarded stars for Baronscourt’s Wild Sika Venison Loin and Wild Sika Venison Sausage.

Dale Farm was another major winner this year, taking 3 stars for its “creamy and buttery” Fivemiletown Ballyoak, two stars each for Boilie Goats Cheese Barrel and Spelga 0% Fat Greek Frozen Yogurt Mixed Berries and also a one star award for a number of other products.

Run by the UK’s Guild of Fine Food and judged by over 400 of these islands’ most demanding palates - food critics, chefs, cooks, restaurateurs, producers and a host of food writers and journalists - Great Taste is widely acknowledged as the most respected food accreditation scheme for artisan and speciality food producers.

The products are blind-tasted but, having judged at them, this doesn’t mean they are just put out on a table without any context. No packaging or identification is allowed, but applicants are invited to give limited background information about their products including, where relevant, details of how they are produced.

In order to achieve a one star award, a product must be deemed good enough by the first judging table to go on to a number of other tables for tasting. Less than a third of the entries got over this first hurdle, and the number of tastings increases as the star level rises - the maximum is three stars and, at that level a product will have been tasted dozens of times.

Another important element of the Great Taste Awards is the feedback given by judges. If they feel a product could be improved, they suggest how and the producers can then act on this advice if they feel it’s justified. Many say they went on to get stars the following year having made the recommended tweaks. They know that those gold and black stickers do wonders for sales.

Other successful Northern Ireland businesses who will be proudly displaying them this year include Magherafelt bakers Genesis Crafty, who won 3 stars for their Supervalu Brown Soda Loaf, and there were stars a-plenty for Suki Tea products, with their Belfast Black and Nana Mint winning 2 gold stars and a gold star each for Belfast Brew, Chamomile, Fairtrade, Organic and Rainforest Alliance Certified Earl Grey Blue Flower, Earl Grey, Lemongrass, Peppermint, Red Berry and Breakfast Teas.

Two star awards also went to Glastry Farm Ice Cream, for their Ling Heather Honey ice-cream, Yellow Door for their Christmas Pudding and Hillstown Brewery for their Goats Butt Wheat and Rye Hybrid Beer.

En Place Foods did very well, winning two stars for their Black Garlic Mostarda and one star each for Chipotle Smoked Chilli Relish, Korean BBQ Sauce and Chorizo Picante Savoury Jam with Oloroso Sherry, while Ann’s Pantry also took two stars for their Guinness Oven Wheaten and a star each for their Oatmeal Biscuit, Custard Tart, Spelt Brown Soda Spelt Potato bread with black pudding, Spelt Madeira and All Butter Shortbread.

2 star awards also went to La Coquine Masala Chai and Salted Caramel, Salted Chilli Caramel and Safari Joe chocolates, Morelli’s Rhubarb & Custard, Espresso coffee and Caramelised Hazelnut Ice Cream and SD Bell's Natural Leaf and "Directors' Brew" Teas and Colombian Supremo Coffee Beans.

The top awards, including the Supreme Champion, were announced at the Golden Fork Awards, in London.

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Barbara CollinsBarbara Collins is a BBC journalist and freelance food, travel and agricultural writer. She contributes regularly to Countryfile magazine, the Farmers Guardian, the Irish News, FFT and the Irish Mail on Sunday. She was Chief Food Writer for Flavour magazine. She is a member of both the UK and Irish Food Writers Guilds and splits her time between Belfast and Galway. Barbara also does menu consultancy and copywriting.

@thegoodchinaset
 

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