Great Taste Awards 2015 – My Day of Judgement!
The Great Taste Awards promote the very best of what local, independent, national and international retailers – have to offer. They are organised by the mighty Guild of Fine Food, established 1995, located in Gillingham, Dorset, and organised professionally, politely and to perfection by an able and talented family run team.
The Guild’s raison d’etre is to support and promote speciality food producers and the independent delis, farm shops and food halls that sustain them. It has over 1300 members. It organises and implements a network of activities designed to promote excellence in all sectors of the trade and build closer links between producers and retailers.
The Great Taste logo is now widely recognised, setting products apart from the rest – a logo that says this producer cares about its product – love and time has gone into it.
And is it popular with producers? You bet! The Guild had to cap this year’s entry to 10,000 products. Judges come from a wide range of backgrounds to ensure each product gets a fair crack of the whip – over 400 judges over the course of 50 days meet in teams of 4 or 5 throughout the months of March to June to get through this wealth of culinary craft – to decide which ones get awarded the logo and up to 3 stars – all of the entries are, of course, blind-tested. Last year, only153 foods achieved the highest and most coveted rating of three stars. 697 foods grabbed 2 stars and 2531 were awarded a 1 star. That means only 34% of entries were accredited – it’s tough, but those who get that cherished black and gold sticker to pop on their produce value it highly. Winning is important to the producers as it differentiates their products from the norm and means the customer has a guarantee that the products they buy have a reliable seal of approval based upon great taste… not marketing.
This was my second year and this time I was better prepared for the challenge that lay ahead – it is quite an assault on your stomach lining if you do not pace yourself – wise not to have a big breakfast and wise during the day to sip lots of water and have palate cleansing slices of apple on hand. The day began at 10.00am and the first session lasted until 12.45pm. My table had 15 items to judge – however, that is added to as other tables pass on entries that need a second opinion to confirm a rating. By 12.45 we had tasted 27 different products which ranged from exotic fruit juice to marmalade to hand crafted chocolates to game terrine, Christmas pudding – a real feast for the eyes this one as it was topped with gold leaf (!) – green tea ice cream, olives, smoked duck and honey.
A well-earned break allows judges a chance to mingle, chat, swap experiences and general networking.
The second session began at 2.30pm and lasted until just after 5pm. The judges are not in the same groups for the afternoon allowing a wider variety of opinion. I tasted 25 products bringing the total to 52 for the day. This year I felt a lot better on the way home, and my stomach was not the washing machine it felt like last year! The second set of products we tasted included cured camel meat – no getting the hump jokes, please – fudge, Iberico ham – stunning – Bronze free range roast turkey, Piada flat bread, salsa verde, lamb stock, rapeseed oil, chilli jam, venison sausages…..wow…it was a real feast for the senses. Of course, we only taste a small mouthful of ech, but there is always a temptation to have a second mouthful of some and occasionally a third – always a good sign for the chances of that product getting close to the 3 star award!
Is it enjoyable? It sure is – the company of other foodies, from a wide range of backgrounds – food festival organisers, cheese makers, chefs, writers, bakers, organic veg box producers to name but a few – makes it a delight and an education. It is also a privilege to taste such provenance and to know that you have a say in helping many producers hopefully get the rewards they deserve. I loved every minute of it – it is hard work – but immensely pleasurable and satisfying.
Long may these awards last and, if you have never visited the Guild’s website you must. Or catch them on twitter @guildoffinefood
And here are just a few of the varied foods I tasted!
Salmon and leek tarts and hand made choices filled with orange ganache
Orange liqueur (right))
pistachio truffles (below)
And in the pic below – taken just before the tasting began – i am on the table far left in the specs looking studious!