NI stars set to sparkle for great tasting local food and drink – Belfast News Letter

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They are waiting patiently for the verdicts of a panel of expert judges in the annual Great Taste Awards, the most prestigious and influential competition in the UK food and drink calendar. Great Taste, organised by the UK Guild of Fine Food, is monitored closely by buyers in major retailers such as Fortnum and Mason, Harrods, Selfridges and Waitrose seeking innovative and outstandingly tasty food and drink for their customers.
Great Taste is a competition in which Northern Ireland companies have achieved tremendous success over the past decade. Hundreds of local products have been recognised and many have gone on to win significant business in Britain, our single most important for food and drink, and even further afield.
Final judging of more than 14,000 products from across the UK, Ireland and other parts of Europe for this year’s UK Great Taste Awards, organised by the Guild of Fine Food, took place in London last week, the winners being announced at the start of August.
The organisers will announce the successful companies in three gold star categories – one, two and three stars – with the companies in the latter category going on to the final stage for supreme champion and regional winners. Companies achieving the coveted three stars have a product deemed by the judges as “exquisite”, two stars mean a product is “outstanding” and a one star product is “simply delicious”.
Since 1994 Great Taste has been discovering exceptional food and drink and making sure that other people know about them. More than 80,000 products have been judged by Great Taste over those years, blind tasted by expert judges who discuss the merits of each product in their search for those that deserve to be championed and garnered with the Great Taste logo.
The Great Taste logo is seen in delis and farm shops, at food festivals and farmers’ markets, butchers, bakers, and all other good food shops. It’s recognised as a mark of quality and outstanding taste.
Michele Shirlow of Food NI, Great Taste champion here, says “We always do very well in the awards, and I am confident that this year will be another record for Northern Ireland producers. It would be tremendous too if one of our companies could achieve the ultimate Supreme Champion award. We’ve won it three times over the past decade – twice by Peter Hannan’s Hannan Meats and once for George McCartney’s McCartney’s Butchers, both based in Moira and both for original meat products.
“A couple of local companies have also earned recognition as being the most successful in the UK, including Thompson’s Family Teas, producer of local market leader Punjana, and Hannan Meats for a range of premium beef and lamb. Now recognised as a reliable stamp of excellence among consumers, retailers and major food buyers alike, Great Taste success can be the gateway to exciting opportunities for food and drink producers.”
Suzy Hamilton Stubber, managing director of Burren Balsamic at Richhill in Co Armagh, is among Northern Ireland’s most successful companies in Great Taste.
“Great Taste is simply the largest and most trusted food and drink accreditation scheme, probably in the world. It supports and promotes food and drink producers, large and small, giving buyers and food lovers in the UK and overseas reliable recommendations for great tasting food,” explains Suzy. “Winning awards for our balsamic vinegars has helped us to gain sales in Britain with retailers of the calibre of Harrods,” she adds.
Andrew Rooney of Rooney Fish in Kilkeel, who has won three stars for his oysters farmed on Carlingford Lough, continues: “Great Taste has proved to be a hugely successful competition for us, endorsing the quality of our oysters and leading to sales from distant markets such as China as well as closer areas including France.”
Around 200,000 products have been put through a robust judging process in the past decade that involves chefs, retailers, food stylists and food writers from across the UK. Each one is fastidiously blind-tasted by the judges, who look for truly great taste, regardless of branding or packaging.
What the judges take into account are 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?
Winning entries are able to brand their packaging with the renowned Great Taste logo. So, look out for the distinctive brand the next time you are shopping for food and drink here.

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