A PLETHORA of local producers have stars in their eyes after dozens of speciality foods picked up coveted star ratings in the 2011 Great Taste Awards.
A bumper crop of 41 artisan products, from ice creams and cupcakes to jams, puds, pork pies and marmalades have secured awards this year from around our region.
The coveted little black and gold star Great Taste stickers adorn thousands of speciality foods stocked on shelves and counters in stores throughout the UK. The awards, organised by the Guild of Fine Foods, are completely independent and uncompromisingly rigorous and, as such, are trusted by retailers and consumers.
There were 15 award-winning products from Northumberland this year, 15 from Tyne and Wear, 10 from County Durham and one from Teesside. These ranged from one, two or three-star gold for the outstanding quality of their food and drink products. Three from the region are highly acclaimed three gold star award-winners and are in the running for regional and national finals to be held next month in London. Ridley’s Fish and Game from Hexham in Northumberland has won three stars for its wild venison striploin, as well as two stars for its venison Scotch pie.
Ice cream boutique Spurreli in Amble has also won three stars for its Sicilian pistachio ice cream, as well as two stars for its Alnwick rum and raisin ice cream and one star for its natural yoghurt with wild berry fruits.
While Gateshead-based Beckleberry’s – luxury ice cream, sorbet and dessert makers, and no stranger to these awards – has garnered six gongs, including three stars for its sour cherry and amaretto sorbet, along with two stars for its tiffin, and one-star awards for its chocolate and salted caramel tart, lemon and raspberry tart, cherry and chocolate stracciatella and chocolate and hazelnut ice cream as well as its gluten-free Bakewell tart.
Other winners include Mark Toney coffee shop and ice cream parlours for their ice creams, Embleton Hall Dairies, Harp & Lyre teas, Proof of the Pudding, The Feathers Inn pub at Hedley in Northumberland for its chicken liver parfait and its orange marmalade, JR Jams and Knitsley Farm Shop in County Durham for its bacon, and pork pie with apple and Stilton.
Regional and national award winners will be announced on September 5 at a dinner at the Royal Garden Hotel in Kensington.
Four three-star winners have been nominated for the North of England category and are in the running for a Golden Fork award. They are Yew Tree Farm Heritage Meats in Cumbria for its Herdwick Mutton and also its Herdwick Hogget; Spurelli for its Sicilian Pistachio ice cream and Beckleberry’s for its sour cherry & amaretto sorbet.
Every three-star winner (including Ridley’s Fish & Game with its wild venison striploin) is in with the chance of becoming the Supreme Gold Winner.
That evening, over 400 producers, buyers, retailers, chefs and food writers will enjoy a sumptuous array of three-star, award-winning food and drink as BBC Radio 2’s Nigel Barden announces who will carry away the coveted Golden Forks awards.
The Great Taste Awards are now in their 18th year and continue to go from strength to strength.
A record number of 7,481 products were entered from 1600 companies for the 2011 Great Taste Awards, an increase of 20% over 2010.
It took 350 experts 34 days to blind taste all the entries and decide which ones were sublime enough to achieve the coveted one, two and three-star gold awards.
To achieve the three-star rating, a minimum of 20 – more often 30 – judges need to be in complete agreement that the food delivered that indefinable “wow” factor.
Bob Farrand, chairman for The Great Taste Awards, said: “Winning gold in the country’s largest and most respected independent food accreditation scheme is a massive pat on the back for any producer – independent proof their products are of the highest quality.
“We provide constructive feedback from our expert judging teams and, for many, winning one, two or three-star gold is exactly what’s needed to help grow their businesses, even during a recession.
“Every winner should feel very proud that their hard work has been rewarded. Historically, winning gold changes lives and transforms the fortunes of small food and drink businesses.”
He adds: “I genuinely believed the number of entries might plateau this year in view of the economic climate. Instead, we have yet again broken every record.”
A full list of award-winning products is available at www.greattasteawards.co.uk
ICE IS NICE SCOOP
Spurreli ice cream lounge in Amble, Northumberland, scooped three awards, including a three-star gold and the nomination for best speciality food from the North of England for their Sicilian pistachio ice cream.
They also picked up a two-star award for their Alnwick rum & raisin ice cream, and a one-star award for their natural yoghurt with wild berry fruits.
Spurreli, which has been in existence for a year, makes ice cream from its boutique ice cream lounge.
All products are sourced locally where possible, with milk and cream coming from Marley Cote Walls farm in Slaley, Northumberland, and fruits also locally grown.
Nick Spurr, Spurreli director and founder, says: “We are over the moon with the awards.
“Winning a Great Taste Award recognises the hard work and dedication that goes into making superb ice cream.
“We never anticipated achieving so much in such a short time frame, and now hope that the recognition of the awards will enable Spurreli to attract customers from far and wide, and highlight the beauty of Northumbrian food.”
CAKERY’S SWEET SUCCESS
REBECCA Scarlett Hedley, 26, scooped two awards for her Northumberland cake and biscuit baking business, Scarlett and the Spotty Dog.
Rebecca won one-star accolades for her Proud to be Ginger Nut biscuits and her Sugar Plum Fairy Christmas pudding.
The cook, who left her job as a solicitor last year to set up her cakery, says: “I am delighted as I have been running the business for less than a year!”
Rebecca runs her cakery from her farmhouse kitchen near Otterburn in Northumberland, using her 1960s AGA.
She uses locally and ethically sourced ingredients, as well as eggs from her own free-range hens.
"I have always loved to bake and invent new sweet cakes and bakes and, after deciding to leave my job last year as a solicitor, I decided it was time to open the business I had always dreamed of in my family home: one that sold lovely, home-made cakes and biscuits.
“Scarlett and the Spotty Dog was born (my middle name is Scarlett and our spotty Jack Russell, Monty, is my little and equally cake-obsessed companion).”
She adds: “We are all really chuffed with these results and it feels like a big pat on the back!”
Her product range includes biscuits such as ginger, cinnamon and honey cookies, The Proud to be Ginger Nut, slices such as The Snowdrift, a buttery biscuit base topped with cashew nuts, stem ginger, honey caramel and white chocolate, and cakes such as Sticky Toffee Date.
"The provenance of the ingredients that I use is really important: I use eggs from our own free-range hens and the majority of my other ingredients are sourced from an independent wholefood co-operative committed to ethical business. I hope to be using our own Spotty Dog honey in the recipes soon.”
Scarlett’s products are sold in shops across Northumberland, at markets and fairs and by mail order at Love your Larder (www.loveyourlarder.com).
Read on for Scarlett and the Spotty Dog sweet treat recipes.