Some of the best food in Britain is to be found in the North East and Cumbria – and that’s official.
An impressive 108 stars have been handed out at this year’s Great Taste Awards to 45 speciality food and drink producers across the North – 12 more accolades than last year.
And the tally includes top three gold star ratings for Seahouses’ Swallow Fish, The Vallum Farm Bakery at East Wallhouses in the Tyne Valley and Newcastle’s Tyne Bank Brewery.
This means their artisan products were deemed to have the indescribable ‘wow’ factor by the judges, who this year included Great British Bake Off’s 2013 winner Frances Quinn and food and drink presenter Nigel Barden, best known for adding culinary pazazz to the Simon Mayo Drivetime show on Radio 2 every Thursday.
The array of awards - which include the three triple stars for the North East alongside 16 two star and 45 one star accolades with Cumbria garnering nine two stars and 35 one star scores – is, says Karen Wilkin of Swallow Fish, a big boost for the area’s foodie credentials.
It was the firm’s Traditional Oak Smoked Kippers that walked off with a three star award, with her and husband Patrick’s Traditional Oak Smoked Wild Salmon, White Crab Meat and Homemade Salmon Pate, each earning one star.
“We have some really fantastic produce here in Northumberland,” Karen declares. “But too often people don’t wander past the River Tyne. Northumberland is known as the Secret Kingdom, but hopefully if we keep winning food awards like this we can encourage people to come and find us.
“There are so many local producers out there who are doing great stuff, and if they have the guts to get out there they too can get stars and other top awards.”
Karen is understandably “chuffed to bits” that in only the second year Swallow Fish has entered the awards organised by the Guild of Fine Food – the UK’s trade association for anyone making or selling top quality local, regional and speciality produce – their kippers cured in the country’s oldest working smokehouse dating back to 1843, should have taken the top spot.
“Being the birthplace of the modern day kipper, it is something really special,” she says. “This is proof we have the best kippers in the UK!
“We are thrilled with all our awards and especially that the White Crab Meat picked up a star. It’s a real pat on the back for the lads in the harbour who catch the crabs to know that what they are delivering is the best.”
The Great Taste Awards are now in their 20th year and are regarded as the ‘Oscars’ of the food world.
More than 150 products from across Britain were granted three stars this year, and the next stage will see the Great Taste Supreme Champion 2014 and the regional Golden Fork Awards announced at a ceremony in London on September 8.
An astounding 10,000 products were blind tasted by more than 400 of the most demanding palates belonging to food critics and writers, chefs, cooks, Women’s Institute members and fellow producers, before the final stars were handed out.
It means that Great Taste is about just that: flavour. No clever marketing, branding or packaging. Judges are presented with a spoonful of jam, a pie, a slice of salami, or a cup of espresso, with no wrappings, jars or marks, and they taste, confer and re-taste before making the decision on whether a product should be a Great Taste one, two or three star winner.
To earn a Great Taste label is a signpost that you have a wonderful tasting product.
Karen says: “What it shows is that while so many people are trying so many different and often outlandish things, we won by staying with tradition and doing things as they should be.
“We said we would never compromise – and we won.”
Another triple star winning food was Vallum Bakery’s handmade Mediterranean vegetable pie produced by Murray Rhind.
The judges described it as a “work of vegetarian genius.”
The citation went on to read: “A glorious looking pie with an amazing golden crust and beautiful layers when cut. It looks enticing and inviting and we couldn’t wait to try it.”
Vallum Bakery and Tea Room have also picked up a clutch of other one and two stars.
Vallum’s owner, Vicky Moffit, says: “We are absolutely delighted to have received so many awards. It’s a wonderful endorsement of the work of our producers and cooks here are Vallum.”
This has been the most successful year to date in the Great Taste Awards for Vallum, which began as a tea room and ice cream parlour nine years ago. Vallum has now been awarded a total of 14 Great Taste Awards since it first entered in 2009.
In Cumbria, Great Taste Awards’ veterans More? The Artisan Bakery from Stavely and Mr Vikki’s from High Hesket near Carlisle, scored an amazing 22 one and two stars between them.
Meanwhile, back here in the North East, renowned tea specialist Ringtons picked up six one and two star ratings in only its second year of entering.
Jon Malton, director for Ringtons, says: “It’s a huge honour to have been recognised by the Great Taste Awards 2014. The blind tasting process includes a number of respected food and drink experts which gives the awards great prestige and shows that our products really are of exceptional quality and taste.”
Now the region’s three star winners will have to wait with baited breath to see if they are in with a chance of the very top awards in London next month.
GREAT TASTE AWARDS – STAR PLAYERS
Allendale Brewery, Hexham, Northumberland:
2 Stars: Pennine Pale, Red Rye and APA
1 Star: Export Stout and Wagtail
Beckleberry’s, Blaydon, Tyne and Wear:
2 Stars: Lychee and Rose Sorbet and Traditional quiche Lorraine
1 Star: Coconut and Mango Bombe, Single Origin Tanzanian Chocolate Ice Cream, Milk Chocolate and Peanut Butter Bombe, White Chocolate and Matcha Ice Cream, Passion Fruit and Campari Sorbet and Gluten Free Chocolate and Raspberry Sunken Pudding
Big T’s Jerky, Gateshead, Tyne and Wear:
2 Stars: Boombastic Tamarind Chipotle Flavour Beef Jerky
Blagdon Farm Shop/Ian Wallace, Blagdon, Northumberland:
1 Star: Blagdon Estate Honey and 32 Day Dry Aged Belted Galloway
Burtree Puddings, Darlington, County Durham:
1 star: Deluxe Christmas Pudding, Traditional Christmas Pudding and Sticky Toffee Pudding
Durham Gin, Durham:
2 Stars: Durham Gin
2 Stars: Breakfast Pork Sausage
1 Star: Spanish Style Pork Sausage and Lamb and Apricot Sausage
JR Jams, Newcastle:
1 Star: Blueberry Jam
Latimer’s Seafood, Sunderland:
1 Star: Roasted Smoked Salmon
Leaside Cheesemakers, West Leaside Farm, Darlington:
2 Stars: White Hilton Soft Cheese
Mama Buci Ltd, Corbridge, Northumberland:
1 Star: Wild African Honey
Moorhouse Farm Shop, Stannington, Northumberland:
1 Star: Treacle Toffee Sponge Cake and Moorhouse Farm Home Made Lasagne
Northumberland Cheese Company, Seaton Burn, Northumberland:
2 Star: Oak Smoked Cheese
1 Star: Redesdale
North Wall Charcuterie, Crook, County Durham:
1 Star: Chorizo-basque style for cooking and Parlourmade, Sedgefield, County Durham
1 Star: Mordon Blue
Punch Bowl Inn, Edmundbyers, County Durham:
1 Star: Steak and Ale Pie and Sticky Toffee Pudding
2 stars: Ringtons Earl Grey and Ringtons Kenyan Gold
1 Star: Ringtons Signature Bird of Paradise Loose Tea, Ringtons Signature Strawberries and Cream Infusion, Ringtons Ginger Snap Biscuits and Ringtons Ginger Cake
Sonnet 43 Brew House, Coxhoe, County Durham:
2 Stars: Bourbon Milk Stout
Spurreli, Amble, Northumberland:
1 Star: Ricotta and Cocoa Pesto Ice Cream and Raspberry and Kirsch Sorbet
Swallow Fish, Seahouses, Northumberland:
3 Star: Traditional Oak Smoked Kippers
1 Star: Traditional Oak Smoked Wild Salmon, White Crab Meat and Homemade Salmon Pate
Tanfield Food Company, Consett, County Durham:
1 Star: Za’atar Chicken
Tea Time Treats, Sunniside, County Durham:
1 Star: Rich Fruit Cake
The Proof of the Pudding, Alnwick, Northumberland:
2 Star: Apricot and Almond Pudding
Tyne Bank Brewery, Newcastle:
3 Stars: Silver Dollar American Ale
1 Star: Cherry Stout
Vallum Bakery, East Wallhouses, Northumberland:
3 Stars: Mediterranean Vegetable Pie
2 stars: Spinach and Vallum Fine Fettle Pie
1 Star: Walnut Bread
Vallum Tea Room, East Wallhouses, Northumberland:
2 Stars: Carrot Cake
1 Star: Savoury Mince Pie and Minestrone with Bacon
Wiga Wagaa Chilli, Consett, County Durham:
1 Star: Chilli Oil
Wildon Grange, Aycliffe Village, County Durham:
1 Star: Beetroot Balsamic Vinegar, Apple Balsamic Vinegar and Blueberry Balsamic Vinegar
Zen Baker, Bellingham, Northumberland:
1 Star: Anadama
Bells of Lazonby, Penrith:
1 Star: Mini Victoria Sponge
1 Star: Spiced Pork Pie with a Red Onion and Chilli Marmalade and Cured Ox Tongue
Claire’s Handmade, Wigton:
1 Star: Jalapeno Jam
Country Fare, Kirby Stephen:
2 Stars: Gluten Free Brandy Fruit Cake, Malt Whisky Fruit Cake and Brandy Fruit cake
1 Star: Iced Christmas Cake
Country Puddings, Penrith:
2 Stars: Summer Pudding
Cranstons Quality Butchers, Penrith:
1 star: Dry Cured Streaky Bacon
Cumbrian Delights, Kendal:
1 Star: Orange Marmalade with Ginger and Cumberland Sauce with Port
Dalemain Marmalade Collection, Penrith:
2 Stars: Jane’s Marmalade with grapefruit, lemons and oranges
1 star: The Bishop’s Marmalade
Friendly Food and Drink, Kendal:
1 Star: Chocolate and Orange Curd, Orange Marmalade with Whisky
Ginger Bakers, Kendal:
1 Star: Gluten and Dairy Free Almondie Biscuit
Hawkshead Relish Company Ltd, Hawkshead, Ambleside:
1 Star: Strawberry Daiquiri Jam and
Bloody Mary Chutney
Lakes Bakery, Barrow-in-Furness:
1 Star: Cherry Chocolicious cake
More? The Artisan Baker, Staveley:
2 Stars: Classic Sourdough Croissant
1 Star: Spiced Apple Lakeland Treacle Bread, Lakeland Treacle Bread with Sour Cherries, Austrian Fruited Rye Bread, Rustic Italian Kalamata olive bread, Three Flour Sourdough, Cheddar and Red Onion Focaccia and Sourdough Chocolate Croissant
Mr Vikki’s, High Hesket, Carlisle:
2 Stars: Tamarind Chipotle, Banana Habanero and Tomato and Nigella
1 Star: Dundee Chipotle Marmalade, Guy Fawkes’ Superhot English Mustard, King Naga, East India Relish, XXX Chilli Jam, Maxi’s Urban Ketchup, Chilli Mafia Jamaican Jerk, Chipotle Sauce, Roast Piri Piri Sauce, Chilli Mafia Bangkok Sriracha and Emergency Chilli Fix
Silver and Green, Penrith:
1 Star: Spicy Cumin Olives
The Sweetmeat Company, Penrith:
1 Star: Damson Fruit Cheese