In 1994 a group of people got together with an aim to cut through the marketing jargon and judge food solely on how it tasted – The Great Taste Awards was born. Since then, the GTA gold badge accreditation has become an institution among artisan producers and a seal of approval for something that is unequivocally excellent. This year, Geoff Campion helped judge the awards and discusses his experience.
Food has, and always will be, an enormous part of my life. Not only is it the fuel for my engine, but it occupies my mind almost constantly. Needless to say, I was delighted to judge the 2017 Great Taste Awards.
This was the first year the awards moved from a warehouse in Gillingham (Dorset, not Kent) to the Big Smoke – just down the road from the FSC offices in Southwark, to be precise. The move demonstrates the growth of the awards and its prevalence amongst producers, operators and consumers.
For those that don’t know, the Great Taste Awards is judged across a number of weeks with the preliminary rounds deciding whether a product deserves one, two, three stars, or none at all. Making this decision is a series of tables with at least three judges on each, who try the products and offer comments and feedback for producers.
All entries are judged independently on their own merit – so you can’t be judging one smoked salmon against another to see what’s best. It’s a pure form of judging and the product has to stand on its own two feet and say ‘I’m outstanding’.
What surprised me was the vast number of gluten-free, dairy free, vegetarian and vegan items we judged over the day. The demand for such products has really picked up pace over the past few years – thanks in part to Instagram hungry, avocado eating millennials. I couldn’t help but wonder how many products of this ilk were submitted in its first year – not many, I suspect.
The free-from movement is indicative of a wider trend for consumers seeking healthier options. Ironically, this often means replacing gluten with sugar heavy alternatives, defeating the object entirely. But that’s another story. Nevertheless it was impressive to see what creative producers can do when cooking with limited ingredients.
Being a carnivorous, bread and cheese eating machine, I was delighted to see that this year’s Supreme Champion was a Smoked Black Pudding from Ireland. It took the crown from last year’s winner, a Glenarm Shorthorn 4 Rib Roast in 2016, who took it from Beef Dripping the year before.
I find this trio of honest, simple, indulgent, excellence reassuring. In a world that’s increasingly watching what it eats, it’s comforting to know that we can still appreciate a cylinder of animal blood, oatmeal and fat.
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