Blas na hÉireann, the Irish food awards, announced this year’s winners, with Rooney Fish crowned Supreme Champion for their Millbay Oysters and Refuge Hot Chocolate announced as Best Artisan Product at the 2018 finals which have just concluded in Dingle.
Rooney Fish are a family run business established in 1975 in Kilkeel, Co. Down. Now in its second generation, they specialise in catching, preparing and processing the finest catch from the waters surrounding Ireland. In 2014 they opened an oyster farm in Carlingford Lough close to their Kilkeel base where they combine traditional methods with innovative, new ideas to produce their award -inning oysters Millbay Oysters.
Refuge Hot Chocolate is a Belfast based food company and social enterprise founded by Tara Mullan, making luxurious thick liquid chocolate that can be enjoyed hot or cold. Refuge Hot Chocolate was established as a social enterprise to help support survivors of human trafficking. The artisan chocolate product is eco-friendly, fair trade and traffic free. Established in 2017, Refuge Hot Chocolate is sold at local markets and can be ordered directly from their Facebook page.
During the first round of judging which took place over the course of four weeks in June and July, over 2,500 entries were judged in UCC & The Baking Academy, bringing the total number of finalists in each category down to just five. Those 5 winners in each of 140 categories were submitted to the judging day in Dingle, where all 350 producer finalists had their food products tasted, compared, savoured and judged at the final of Blas na Éireann 2018 on Thursday 4th October, with over 4,000+ samples tasted over the judging day by over 100 judges.
Judges come from all backgrounds, including chefs, academics, trade, buyers and home cooks. The few days around the judging process in Dingle are also an opportunity for the producers and the general public to mingle, taste and enjoy some of the most exciting and interesting Irish food products, meet and hear the fascinating stories of some of the country’s most intriguing new, best loved and long-established producers and entrepreneurs, and celebrate the winners and participants in this year’s Blas na hÉireann awards.
John Rooney says, “We are absolutely delighted to win Supreme Champion at Blas na hÉireann 2018 for our Millbay Oysters.
"Although we’ve grown considerably since we began we’re still a family business and to be recognised with this award from Blas na hÉireann, who themselves believe so strongly in community and family, is a huge honour”
The Blas na hÉireann awards are the biggest blind tasting of produce in the country, and the criteria on which the product is judged as well as the judging system itself, which was developed by Blas na hÉireann with the Food Science Dept of UCC, is now recognised as an international industry standard.