Once again, Irish food and drink has passed one of the stiffest tests of all.
In the annual Great Taste awards, some of the world’s most discerning judges spend months sampling 12,777 products from 106 countries.
Only 205 were awarded the top accolade of three stars, and 17 of them are from the island of Ireland, 14 from the south, and three from Northern Ireland.
Only 1.6% products achieved a 3-star award, so this achievement puts our products amongst the elite.
With testing by a panel of more than 500 experts, many of whom are household names for gourmets, Great Taste is the world’s largest and most trusted food and drink awards.
It is organised by the UK’s Guild of Fine Food.
Chefs, buyers, food writers, and retailers put the products to the test in 14 weeks of judging.
They are instructed to value taste, texture and appearance above all else, with no regard for branding or packaging.
In fact, all the products are removed from their packaging before being tasted.
The judges then savour, confer, and re-taste, to decide which products are worthy of one, two, or three stars.
Since 1994, Great Taste judges have blind-tasted over 158,000 products.
With the Covid-19 lockdown beginning in the UK just one week into the 2020 judging schedule, there was a re-organisation of the Great Taste process to ensure that robust judging standards were maintained and the quality of feedback was not compromised, in the remote judging and socially distanced judging sessions, all in time to release the eagerly awaited results in September.
It’s no wonder the Great Taste stars are recognised as a stamp of excellence among consumers and retailers alike, Great Taste.
The distinctive black and gold Great Taste label is a signpost to an outstanding product.
Even if a product entered does not get a star, it is still valued as a way of putting your food or drink to the test with a panel of over 500 experts, to get honest, straightforward and impartial feedback from chefs, buyers, food writers and retailers.
Over the years, numerous food businesses, start-ups and well-established producers have been advised how to modify their foods and have subsequently gone on to achieve Great Taste stars.
As well as seeing an uplift in sales and revenue, award-winning producers also get to enjoy raised awareness by appearing in the Great Taste book, a unique directory used by many food retailers, supplying samples for high profile events and exhibiting as part of Great Taste Markets at UK events.
A Great Taste award opens doors in the UK market, where 30% of the food consumed comes from the 27 member states of the EU, and annual imports of food, drinks, and feed are worth £42 billion.
The Netherlands, Ireland, Germany, and France account for about 60% of the UK’s food imports from the EU27.
Of course, Brexit threatens to disrupt the market, but the high-quality products worthy of Great Taste stars would be sought out by discerning UK consumers, regardless of the Brexit changes.
Here’s what the 2020 panel of judges said about some of the Irish 3-star products.
The Gooseberry Spread from Crossogue Preserves, Thurles, Co Tipperary, was praised as a “simple but really well made” product having “notes from the flesh, skins and pips all present” and with a “lovely hedgerow finish”.
The Traditional Ham on the Bone from James Whelan Butchers in Clonmel, Co Tipperary, was a “whopper of a ham with a light piggy aroma” and “oozing pig flavour”, with the judges agreeing that this “was obviously a happy pig.”
The Vintage Reserve West of Ireland Dry Aged Tomahawk Steak from Dawn Meats was “stunning”, with a “rich aroma”.
“It’s perfectly tender, the fat is creamy and flavoursome.
“Together with the sweet, tender, lean meat, this is a wonderful taste experience.”
From Northern Ireland came the “plump, glossy, soft and remarkably sweet” Carlingford Oysters
One judge said, “it is hard to imagine better tasting, better-looking oysters”;
Food buyers from Selfridges, Fortnum & Mason, and Waitrose — names synonymous with good food — were among the judges impressed by the latest crop of premium Irish foods and drinks.
Only 1.5% get their 3-star honour, they have to be “extraordinarily tasty foods”. The description for the 10% of entries that get two stars is “above and beyond delicious”.
A one-star food “delivers fantastic flavour”; approximately 30% of entries will achieve this rating each year.
Of the 42% getting at least one star this year, from 12,777 entries, 396 are based in Ireland.
The 3-star winners will discover later this month if they are Golden Fork trophy winners (including best in Ireland), or even the Great Taste 2020 Supreme Champion.
But they are all winners already, and those who consistently get stars year after year will know that they are masters of their trade.
They are flying the flag for Ireland, and living up to the Bord Bia description of Ireland as a clean, green, high quality and innovative producer of excellent food and drink products, a reputation earned from many years of supplying international markets.
Well done to Munster producers for having the majority of the foods and drinks conferred with three stars by the Great Taste judges. For example, butcher James Whelan of Clonmel, Co Tipperary, who is among the 3-star winners every year, and is treble-represented in 2020 with his Rib Roast, Heritage Cure Ham, and Traditional Ham on the Bone. He is of course already a Great Taste Supreme Champion.
For a second year in a row, Aldi Ireland’s Specially Selected Free Range Irish Whole Goose produced by Skeaghanore Duck, Ballydehob, Co Cork, is a 3-star winner.
Among the 3-stars this year, and consistently high-ranked in the Great Taste awards are other Co Cork companies such as Ummera Smoked Products Ltd, Timoleague, and Stonewell Cider, Nohoval.
Great Taste success has also verified the work of Ireland’s retail giants, whose names are peppered throughout the 2020 awards list.
If you want to find which local food and drink producers are world-class, check out the winners list for yourself at the greattasteawards.co.uk website.