It was quite a night for Whitewater Brewery in Castlewellan, a Food NI member, at this year’s gala Great Taste dinner in London on Sunday evening. It’s always a marvellous occasion for smaller producers in particular. I want to extend my heartiest congratulations to Whitewater’s Bernard Sloan and team on winning the Northern Ireland Golden Fork.
This is a tremendous endorsement of a superb product from one of our most enterprising companies by a panel of food experts in what is Europe’s biggest blind tasking challenge. And I am delighted that the award has gone to a Food NI member business. We all thrilled by the company’s success at Food NI. Whitewater recently announced new business in Sweden on the back of export successes in Japan and Singapore.
Great Taste, as many readers of this column will know, is organised by the influential Guild of Fine Food, and is an internationally rated benchmark for fine food and drink, often described as the ‘Oscars’ of the food world and the ‘epicurean equivalent of the Booker prize’. The Great Taste black and gold roundel is the sign shoppers can trust the food and drink in your local, quality retailer.
Some 13,000 food and drink products were judged this year by 500 experts including specially trained food writers and chefs. The judges, from all corners of the food world, blind-tasted the products in teams of 3 or 4 before awarding stars and finally the regional Golden Forks and the overall Supreme champion producer, a recognition Northern Ireland has won three times in the past decade. The winners were Moira butchers George McCartney and Peter Hannan (twice) Food NI, of course, will be doing everything we can to promote this exemplary success story at home and especially in the trade shows we are organising with support from business development body Invest NI. We’ll promoting local food and drink at the Lunch show in London for ‘food-on-the-move’ companies and at the National Ploughing Championships in Carlow, both later in September.
Warm congratulations too to the seven other companies which achieved the coveted three stars in Great Taste as well as those which recorded two and single stars in this vitally important event for our industry. They were Craic Foods, En Place Foods, Hannan Meats, Irish Black Butter, Neill’s Flour, Little Bakehouse and Millbay Oysters, six of them Food NI members. We’ll be holding an event to celebrate all their successes later in the year and also to encourage them to enter again next year. We’d like to see many more local companies benchmarking their products against competitions from other parts of the British Isles and beyond.
The next big challenge for our producers is next month’s Blas na hEireann Irish National Food Awards in Dingle. Many local businesses have already had products shortlisted and we are hoping to see the top award retained in Northern Ireland again and thereby build on the success of Andrew Rooney’s exceptional Millbay Oysters from Carlingford Lough. Millbay has since gone on to develop substantial business in China and France.
Furthermore, a major extension of the progressive business is at the planning stage. Millbay is a fine example of how success in internationally ranked awards can lead directly to export business.