The best food producers in Yorkshire were honoured in York. Michael Hickling reports on the Yorkshire Post’s annual Taste Awards ceremony.
Life is sweet for Chris Holmes. He gave up a well-paid career looking at dead sheep to be a commercial bee keeper. And the first time he entered his honey in a food competition he won.
Chris was one of the eight category winners who lifted a trophy at the Yorkshire Post Taste Yorkshire Awards. The impressive ceremony, held in the Guildhall at York and hosted by the celebrity chef Rosemary Shrager, was the climax to the York Food and Drink Festival which concluded last weekend.
Chris, 46, worked as a meat inspector for the Meat Hygiene Service for 22 years until he took a voluntary pay-off to spend more time with his two-acre smallholding at Flockton in West Yorkshire. He now divides his year between that, work as an international ski instructor and caring for the 100 colonies of bees which produce his unique Stickeys honey. “It all dovetails perfectly,” said Chris.
He has been offered skiing work in Italy for the upcoming season but may have to curtail his time in the mountains in order to make sure his bees make it through the winter. “I’m really worried about my bees after the terrible wet summer we’ve had,” he says. He treats each of his apiaries as a separate entity. He asks his customers at farmer’s markets where they live and then tries to match them with honey from that location. “I tell them that the bees may have been in their garden,” he says. Supermarkets want consistency of flavour and colour. We are going away from that. Customers expect our honey to be different.”
Chris’s honey was one of the bumper number of entries for the awards which have grown steadily over the past seven year. This time an extra category – preserves – was added to accommodate the number of people who wanted to enter.
In mid-August a panel of experts gathered in York to taste their way through the products which had made it onto the shortlist of 45.
The food and drink, divided into seven categories, was placed before the panel which included Heather Parry, the managing director of Fodder in Harrogate, Grace Mulligan of Farmhouse Kitchen fame on Yorkshire Television - and Christine Austin, wine correspondent of the Yorkshire Post. It was chaired by Michael Hjort, the director of the York Food Festival.
The panel was faced with some cultural cuisine crossovers, especially among traditional dishes which Yorkshire folk hold dear. For example there was an excellent Balti sausage. The judges tried to digest the significance meaning of this and wondered whether this coming together of two of the favourite dishes from East and West would enhance or diminish them.
In the end they came up with a typical British fudge. The judges decided they liked Balti sausage - but did not vote it into the finals.
Another intriguing entry they tasted was a meat pie, made with Yorkshire lamb, but cooked in a North African style.
And stepping further into the territory of the exotic, they tried a meat pie which had a combined filling of local pheasant and genuine Yorkshire chorizo – yet another indication that the county’s culinary ambitions are expanding.
All the judges were agreed on one thing, that their decisions were hard to make because almost everything they tasted was first-rate.
Plus there was a of the Readers Award. This category was open to all entrants who reached the shortlist and were prepared to make their products available for free tasting sessions during the food festival. The public voted on what they judged the best. This year the people’s choice was Piercy’s pork.
Peter Charlton, Editor of the Yorkshire Post, who introduced the awards, said, “Each year at this time of year the excellent York Food and Drink Festival bangs the drum for the best that Yorkshire has to offer.
“And we are here to bang it harder for those people who do the work – the producers of the best food and drink in the county - and give due recognition for those who richly deserve it.
“The Yorkshire Post has always made every effort to support excellence on its patch and I hope our awards tonight will give everyone a morale boost, especially at this time when the market place is tough and shoppers are watching every penny.
“By doing things the right way you produce the best. And success lies in persuading consumers that it is worth buying top quality from producers who insist on upholding the highest standards.”
Winners in full...
• Winner - F&A Walker. Product: Beef. The product they entered was rolled sirloin that had been hung for at least 21 days. The company is a small but very busy butcher’s who finish their own cattle to sell directly through their shop which has now established a reputation in the Halifax area for their well-matured beef that often has a crust a fat. New customers say they have never tasted beef like it.
• Billys Hill Farm Shop. Product: Treacle and Stout Bacon.
• Ye Olde Pie and Sausage Shoppe. Product: Rare Breed Dry Cured Bacon.
• Winner - Ye Olde Pie and Sausage Shoppe. Product: Yorkshire Free Range Pork Pie. This is a small family business in the Shambles in York. Father Robert Wilson is chief sausage maker and daughter Kayleigh manages the shop. They are mainly a pork butchers specialising in gourmet sausages, meat and pies.
• Billys Hill Farm Shop. Product: Moroccan Lamb Pie.
• The Farmers Arms. Product: Pheasant and Yorkshire Chorizo Pie.
• Winner - Stickeys. Product: Honey. The first time the category has been offered, it was taken by former meat hygiene inspector Chris Holmes who keeps bees at Flockton, between Wakefield and Huddersfield.
• Mercers of Yorkshire. Product: Raspberry Conserve
• Sylvia Thompson. Product: James and Preserves.
• Winner - Shepherd’s Purse Cheeses. Product: Harrogate Blue cheese.Judy Bell has won numerous awards and has been successful in these award several times since she started Shephed’s Purse in 1987by making ewe’s milk cheese on the family farm near Thirsk. Developed by Judy and her daughter Katie, Harrogate Blue has a luxurious texture with a mellow blue flavour and a hint of pepper.
• Yorvale. Product: Lemon, Honey and Ginger Ice Cream.
• Yummy Yorkshire Ice Cream Company. Product: Yorkshire Parkin Ice Cream.
• Winner - Newfields Organic Produce. Product: Fennel Kohl Rabi, Carrots. At 650 feet above sea level at Fadmoor at the southern end of the North York Moors, near Kirkbymoorside, this must be one of the highest organic farms in the country. The first organic crops were grown here in 1980 and by 1992 the entire farm had been converted and received the Soil Association seal of approval.
• The Balloon Tree farm Shop and Café. Product: Strawberries.
• Winner - Great Newsome Brewery. Product: Sleck Dust ale. The Hodgson family have been cultivating the rich earth of Holderness at Great Newsome Farm on the Yorkshire coast near Hull for four generations. Brewing stared in the spring of 2007 and they made their dog Jem, a Spinger Spaniel, their logo. They named a beer after her on the day she died. Sleck Dust ale is the original Great Newsome brew. Pleasingly bitteerd with lemony citrus hop notes and a floral aroma, is comes as a cask ale and a filtered bottle beer.
• Bridgehouse Brewery. Product: Bridgehouse Porter.
• Wold Top Brewery. Product: Scarborough Fair IPA.
• Winner - Pattacakes. Product: Yorkshire Rhubarb Custard Crumble Tart. As a child Anita Tasker would spend time at the home of her grandparents in Vienna where they ran a coffee shop and bakery. Hence her interest in strudle and pastries. In the summer of 2009 Anita, based at Welburn near Castle Howard, opened a shop stocking local produce plus a tea room. This product is a twist on Yorkshire’s favourite pudding, using vanilla custard topped with poached rhubarb.
• Brown and Blonde. Product: Brownies and Blondies.
• C Lumb and Son, Far Barsey Farm Shop. Product: Yorkshire Tea Bread.
• Winner - Piercy’s Pork. Based at Huby, north of York, John Piercy sells his pork, bacon, sausage and burgers through local farmers’ markets and is known for his uncompromising selling line: “Buy bacon – not water!”