IN August almost 50 food and drink products waited to tempt the the five-strong judging panel for our Taste Yorkshire Awards, run in association with the York Food and Drink Festival. This followed a doubling of the number of entries for the awards which have now been running for six years.
The producers on this shortlist had to be brought down to 18 to give a winner and two highly-commendeds for each of the six award categories. During two-and-half hours of ice cream tasting followed by pork pies, meringue followed by steak, beer by cooking oil (a food judge needs a robust and versatile palate) each product was assessed under three headings – look, taste and provenance.
The judges, chaired by Michael Hjort, director of the York Food and Drink Festival and owner of Melton's and Meltons Too restaurants, finally had their results to be kept secret until last Friday night at the awards dinner at York Guildhall. There was one further award. All those shortlisted were invited to make their product available in a festival marquee for public tastings. The people voted on the one they preferred and this poll decided the Readers Award.
Peter Charlton, Editor of the Yorkshire Post, who introduced the awards ceremony, said Yorkshire had some of the most energetic and creative food producers in the country.
"We all ought to bang the drum for Yorkshire food much more loudly and I hope that our awards do go some way to giving proper recognition for those who richly deserve it," he said.
"All of them share a common belief in doing things the right way. Right for themselves, right for the customers and right for the environment and animal welfare. Of course there's some hard-headed Yorkshire thinking in there as well. By doing things the right way they produce the best. And the best will sell profitably for a premium to people who appreciate it."
All the winners have their own recipes for success but a get-up and go attitude is common to all of them. Typical of that is Ian Taylor, winner of the dairy category, who started out on his own in 1996 with the help of a grant from the Prince's Trust. He took on an egg round in Leeds, initially buying the eggs from free range unit at the family farm at Burton Leonard. Now he has 5,000 at the family farm and 12,000 on contract. He collects the eggs, packs them (with help from his parents) and delivers them. He sells within a 35 mile radius and drives 400 miles a week in two-and-a-half days.
Ian says the main customer satisfaction in his business is psychological. It's all to do with the pleasure of seeing a deep orange yolk as you crack one of his eggs over the frying pan. The judges said the yolks from his hens almost seem to glow. Ian says he's cheaper than the supermarkets because he doesn't have their overheads. "I work about 80 hours a week, you're prepared to do that when you are working for yourself."
Chris Stringer was prepared to go all the way to Austria to find and purchase a suitable state-of-the-art mill. The idea of farmers also setting up as small artisan producers took root rather faster over there than it did here and that's where the lessons were to
Chris had identified the farm's cereals as the best means of adding value and now they sell their own flour, bread mixes and muesli with porridge oats as the best seller. Chris farms at Prospect Farm, Acklam on the Yorkshire Wolds with her husband Mark and her son Mike. They converted to organic farming 11 years ago.
Caroline and Tim Sellers, winners in the local brew category, decided to commit their 190 hectares at Carr House Farm to organic production 10 years ago. They make artisan breads, flours, mueslis, plus fruit juices using primarily home grown ingredients. The juices are made in their newly converted juicery on the farm.
Fruit is hand-pressed using traditional methods to create juices that are distinct from mass produced sweet, bland and watery juices.
In early June the Elderflowers are collected and mixed with all the other ingredients and infused in water sourced on the farm. After five days the filtered juice is bottled, pasteurised and labelled.
The organics grandaddy in Yorkshire however is Newfields Organic Produce. They were the people's choice at the public tasting and lifted the Readers' Award trophy. Their first organic crops were grown here 30 years ago and a dozen years later the whole farm had been converted to Soil Association Organic Standard. The farm
is at Fadmoor near Kirkbymoorside and, at 650ft, on the edge of the North York Moors it must be one of the highest organic operations in the country.
The land has been cultivated at Yockenthwaite Farm at Buckden in the Yorkshire Dales since the 13th century. The winner in the handmade category, Yorkshire Dales Real Food, is owned and run by the Hird family who have been at Yockenthwaite Farm since 1842. Their winning product owes something to the ingenuity of a New York doctor who ordered it for sanatorium patients and to John Harvey Kellogg who came up with the granola name in 1896.
The Yockenthwaite version began life as a special breakfast treat for house guests. It's made from freshly milled wholegrains bound together with olive oil and honey and one stockist – Fodder in Harrogate – reports that customers become agitated if there's none on the shelves.
Robert Wilson is a former slaughterman who needed a different job after injuring his arm. He and his wife Julie thought of one during a trip to Bath when they saw Ye Olde Sausage Shop. They opened their own shop last November in York's Shambles. Daughter Kayleigh is the shop manager and the family, at first time of asking, lifted the pies category trophy before their enterprise is even one year old.
Charles Ashbridge of Taste Tradition, who won the meat category with his Yorkshire Free Range Rose Veal Loin Steak, admits that he needed to confront an image problem with this product when it came on the market three months ago. It's bound up with animal welfare and the plight of bull calves. These animals are of no use to the dairy industry which produced them and the system used to be to keep them in crates and then ship them to the Continent. Taste Tradition took a different route. Its calves lead contented lives with their mothers on the North York Moors and travel no further than Thirsk to be slaughtered at about seven months.
Charles Ashbridge started breeding his own livestock at the age of six. After graduating he spotted a gap in the market for quality pork from rare breeds, reared and finished in the traditional way. With his mother, Joyce, he started this business on New Year's Day 2004 at Cold Kirby, near Sutton Bank, where the Ashbridge family has farmed for three generations. Most of the ros veal (named because of its pink colour) sold in this country still comes from dairy Friesian bulls. Taste Tradition however uses beef animals such as Aberdeen Angus, shorthorn or Dexter. It was the unanimous choice of the awards' judges.
THIS YEARS WINNERS ARE
Ian Taylor Free Range Eggs – Eggs
Local Brew category
Side Oven Bakery – Organic Elderflower Cordial
J Stringer & Sons – Home Grown Cereals
Yorkshire Dales Real Food – Yorkshire Dales Granola
Ye Olde Pie and Sausage Shop – Traditional Pork Pie
Taste Tradition – Yorkshire Free Range Rose Veal Loin Steak
EP&J Robertshaw – Goats' Milk
Shepherd's Purse Cheeses – Bell's Buemin White
Local Brew category
Glendale Ginger – Non-alcoholic ginger drink
Wold Top Brewery – Golden Summer Light Beer
Newfields Organic Produce – Organic vegetables
Nigel Parker – chillies
Curry Cuisine – Yorkshire Rhubarb Chilli Jam
Lottie Shaw's – Yorkshire Parkin
E&EG Bullivant and Daughters – Gluten-free beef pie
Cannon Hall Farm – Pork pie with blue cheese and red onion marmalade
Keelham Hall Farm
Shop – Pork Sausage
with Rhubarb and Mango
Rare Breed Larder – Pancetta Italian Style Bacon
Newfields Organic Produce – Organic vegetables