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In search of a delicious bite
1:19pm Saturday 1st September 2012 in Features
Deliciously Yorkshire food tasting at Askham Bryan College. Pictured from the left are Paul Gilligan, Maxine Gordon, Luke Downing, Stephanie Moon and Elaine Lemm
MAXINE GORDON works her way through 34 chutneys, eight ice-creams, plates of artisan cheese and punnets of fresh fruit and veg as a judge in Yorkshire’s food Oscars
WE left the hottest chutneys to the end, mindful that once the burn began our tastebuds would be in tatters.
They were numbered one to 34 and appeared in almost every colour. There was the pillar-box red of a “home-made tomato ketchup”; the lurid yellow of a “Yorkshire piccalilli”; the deep sage of a bean chutney; vibrant orange of a spiced carrot condiment and the deep purple of an orange and beetroot relish.
Unlike the other categories in this round of DeliciouslyYorkshire’s annual food awards, we were struggling to find a clear winner. Three products stood out; but which was best? After much deliberation and repeated snacking on the mini tortillas that accompanied each dip, we had our winner.
All will be revealed next week, when the shortlist of finalists is announced. The winners, across categories as varied as seafood, preserves and cakes, will be unveiled in a glittering prize night at the National Railway Museum on October 25.
The annual awards run by DeliciouslyYorkshire are dubbed Yorkshire’s food Oscars. They can really make a difference to local producers, says Elaine Lemm, food writer and chair of judging for this year’s event.
She said: “We are all going through difficult times and the great thing about these awards is that they showcase Yorkshire and the quality of its produce in such a wonderful way.
“To get shortlisted or win an award can take them on to the next level and really get their product out there.”
Joining me for the afternoon judging session was top Yorkshire chef Stephanie Moon, of Harrogate’s Rudding Park Hotel and TV’s Great British Menu, as well as Leeds chef Luke Downing whose Dough restaurant heavily features on-the-doorstep products.
Paul Gilligan made up our panel. Paul’s job is to find fabulous local products for the supermarkets. He had taken part in the morning session, judging baked goods, and was excited that he had already “discovered” three new products he wanted to bring to stores.
He was particularly pleased to see producers collaborating with each other – such as a brewer with a baker. “We’ve been staggered by the innovation,” says Paul.
Not all blue-sky experiments worked. We didn’t take to some of the ice-cream flavours and a few of the chutney combinations would be better labelled ‘works in progress’.
We had four hours to judge three categories: dairy; fresh produce and condiments.
We began with dairy, trying the cheese first. We were all surprised to find just three entries. As lovely as they were, it would have been a better contest to have had more variety. Note to Yorkshire cheesemakers: do enter these awards next year.
Alongside the cheese were a natural yoghurt and a butter, both made from goat’s milk, as well as a selection ice-creams. Luckily, one product emerged as the clear winner; happily all the judges agreed.
As much as I love ice-cream (what a treat, trying eight in one afternoon), my food highlight came in a wooden box. The fresh produce category brought with it some of the finest food grown in the region. We ate the biggest, sweetest peas we’d ever tasted as well as the juiciest plums and even a selection of raw garlic (bet you’re not so envious of this assignment now).
You couldn’t help but reflect that while you can muck around with the flavours in cakes, bread, ice-cream, cheese and chutneys, there was a joyful purity in the fruits of the Yorkshire garden.
We even had a culinary first. What was the strange mini-melon-like product lurking in one of the veg boxes? Was it a squash? Cutting it open, it was light green inside – could it be some kind of lime? On closer inspection, we noticed large seeds set in a watery middle. It had a crisp texture. On tasting, we had our answer.
“It’s some sort of cucumber,” said Stef Moon, who immediately began reeling off how she’d prepare it in her kitchen.
Elaine Lemm quickly posted a picture on twitter to aid identification. The tweets came thick and fast. Was it a ‘Crystal lemon cucumber’ or the fascinatingly named ‘Dragon’s egg’ variety?
Whatever it was called, it tasted amazing. And it was grown in Yorkshire.