Yesterday I had the great honour of being part of a panel judging the fruit and vegetable category of The Soil Association Organic Food Awards 2013 . The Soil Association is the UK’s leading membership charity campaigning for healthy, humane and sustainable food, farming and land use. 656 000 hectares of land in Britain are farmed organically and over 4500 businesses and farms all over the world are certified by the association.
The judging takes place every year at The Duke of Cambridge Pub in Islington, Britain’s first and only organic pub.
Long wooden tables were laid out in rows, and all the fruit and vegetables were laid out on numbered plates, so that none of the judges could see the names of the producers.
Alongside organic food writer Lynda Brown, restaurateurs Russel Norman and Giancarlo Caldesi as well as other growers and experts, I ate my way through both raw and cooked produce, analysing texture, flavour, colour, presentation and hybrids. Our comments and scores were written on sheets alongside each entry and as soon as we finished on one entry we moved onto the next, sipping cold water on a roastingly hot day. Chef Barney Haughton of the Square Food Foundation in Bristol was responsible for steaming, boiling and baking to keep the momentum going.
Behind us bread guru Andrew Whiteley and John Lister, owner of Shipton Mill Organic Flour, and a group of the other organic judges were eating their way through many different loaves in the bread categories.
The Soil Association Organic Food Awards are extremely important in an industry valued at £1.64 billion in sales. The product awards are open to all organic food and drink products certified by a recognised certifier. There are 11 categories and 34 sub-categories this year – from poultry, preserves and pasta to cheese, chocolate and cider. There are also awards for the best veg box scheme, supermarket, independent retailer, school community and consumer choice.
Soil Association Eco-Consultant Christopher Stopes, who helps to organise the event, told me how important the awards are in showcasing and celebrating excellence and best practice in the industry. For the winners it is an accolade worth a great deal in terms of kudos in carrying the winning label, as well as being of importance when securing financing for growth and development. It is the gold seal of merit.
From our blind tastings there was often discussion, debate and disagreement, but the gold standard was seldom quibbled about ~ it was quite evident which growers had produced the most delicious fruit and vegetables. Winning entries had very distinct flavours, the clear, healthy taste of authenticity and good growing practice. Some of the produce was so good we wanted to take it home in our bags.
Stay tuned to the website page of The Soil Association for the results ~ the final awards will be presented at a prestigious awards ceremony in September 2013.
The Soil Association: www.soilassociation.org
Follow on Twitter: @SoilAssociation