Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Northern Ireland stars of food... rated by 400 of the most discerning palates in the land

Hannan Meats salt-aged rib: "A fabulous juicy rib chop. The judges were drooling as it was carved into. A delicious smell lingers as does our anticipation"
Baronscourt Venison from Omagh vied for a title
Judge: Critic Charles Campion

It's a revered blind-tasting awards scheme that recognises ingredients without being influenced by branding and packaging – and more than a dozen Northern Ireland companies are in the running for the top prize.

As part of Great Taste, judges are presented with a spoonful of jam, a pie or a slice of salami, with no wrappings, jars or marks – and must decide on its quality based on flavour alone.

Eighteen Northern Ireland producers are now in contention for the top regional prize or supreme champion product after being awarded three stars by the prestigious food panel.

Among the local products presented with three stars are a wild sika venison loin from Baronscourt, described by one judge as "simply superb, delicious flavour and as soft as butter", and Hannan Meats' salt-aged rib of beef, praised for its "layers and layers of flavour" and "incredible fat".

Also awarded three stars by the panel of blind-tasters was a whole peppermint leaf tea from Suki Teahouse and sweet smoked flavours of Walter Ma's traditional smoked scallops from Ewing's Seafoods.

Judged by more than 400 of the most demanding palates belonging to food critics, chefs, cooks, members of the Women's Institute, 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.

According to highly-regarded restaurant and food critic Charles Campion, "Great Taste is the only food award worth having".

Of the 10,000 entries into this year's accreditation scheme, only 153 have been awarded Great Taste three stars, including Northern Ireland's 18.

Moira-based company Hannan Meats was awarded seven three-star awards in recognition of its quality produce.

In total, 255 Northern Ireland food producers were presented with one, two and three stars.

A panel of judges featuring Campion, who is also a MasterChef judge, BBC Food Programme presenter Sheila Dillon and Great British Bake Off winner Frances Quinn retasted and rejudged all the three-star winners to finally agree on the 2014 Top 50 Foods, the Golden Fork Trophy winners and the Great Taste Supreme Champion 2014.

The Top 50 foods will be announced on Twitter and then on September 8, the regional Golden Fork award winners and overall champion will be unveiled.

A spokeswoman for Great Taste said: "All of the judges who came to Belfast to taste the products agreed that there is a very high standard of food coming from Northern Ireland and that there has definitely been a resurgence of wonderful produce there."

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