The Taste Awards are widely acknowledged as the most respected food accreditation schemes for artisan and speciality fine food and drink.
And one Munster company, Kerryfish, run by the Quinlan family in Co Kerry, has secured two places in the top 50, out of about 10,000 Great Taste entries.
The Irish winners now go into the mix for the Great Taste Supreme Championship 2015, sponsored by Harrods.
The result will be announced in London on Monday, September 7, when the best Irish entrant will also be named, among the regional Golden Fork Awards.
Also in there will be an Irish butter, the Irish Farmhouse Country Butter from Cuinneog Ltd of Castlebar, Co Mayo, placed in the Great Taste top 50 by judges who described it as “gorgeous, subtle and enticing”.
Produced using pasteurised cream and a little salt, this butter impressed with its complexity — sweet and rich with a hint of cream cheese tang, said the judges.
The judges included Masterchef judge and restaurant critic Charles Campion; TV presenter and cook Aggie Mackenzie; Great British Bake Off winner Frances Quinn; Masterchef the Professionals finalist Adam Handling; food buyers from Harrods, Selfridges, Waitrose and Marks & Spencer; and chefs such as James Golding, Chef Director of The Pig hotel group.
The strong Irish showing in the awards confirms the country’s high standing in the premium food sector, and represents a major breakthrough for Kerryfish, with their Smoked Irish Organic Salmon cured with Irish Atlantic Sea Salt, and their Smoked Irish Organic Salmon, both in the top 50.
“A taste of the coastline, rock pools and sea weed“, said the Great Taste judges, adding that the close grains, succulent melting texture and fresh taste of the salmon were “exemplary“, for a farmed fish.
Quinlan’s, established in 1963, is run by Michael Quinlan and his sons Liam, Ronan, and Fintan. Liam said the awards mark 50 years of hard work.
The Beef Dripping from James Whelan Butchers was described as a simple, traditional product which evoked a great deal of nostalgia among the judges, who enjoyed its meaty flavour and the balance of sweet and savouriness.
From the Baronscourt Estate in Co Tyrone, the Wild Sika Venison French Rack made the top 50 for its “buttery” taste and “toasty, wild, hay and offal” notes on the palate, and the meat’s long lasting flavour.
More than 10,000 entries were blind tasted by a 400-strong judging panel, with judges then savouring, conferring, and re-tasting to decide which products are worthy of one, two, or three-star awards.
Only 130 products were awarded three stars, including eight Irish products.
To receive a 3-star rating, every judge at each judging session had to unanimously agree that the food delivered exceptional quality and taste.
Outside of the top 50, three gold stars went to Irish food companies for Java Republic Rwandan, Bewley’s Fair Trade Special Blend Tea, Ballyhoura Mountain Mushrooms Cep Oil, and Ballyhoura Mountain Mushrooms Mushroom Vinegar.
Michelle Butler, Bord Bia, said, “Irish food and drink performed fantastically at this year’s Great Taste Awards, with even more three gold star winners than in 2014.
“To receive such acclaim at these prestigious awards is great recognition of the high quality food and drink that is on offer from Ireland.”
Among other Irish companies in the three-star and Top 50 category is Dawn Meats, for their West Country Choice Tomahawk Steak, produced in the UK.