28/07/2014 07:09 BST | Updated 25/09/2014 06:59 BST

Great Taste Awards 2014 - Judging

It's been one of the best things I've been involved with since I started my blog - Hold The Anchovies Please - and I have been tremendously honoured to have been part of the Judging Team that makes up the Great Taste Awards, organised by the Guild of Fine Food. Four hundred and five judges, taste, prod and poke produce. If it's the best thing since sliced bread then it's given an Oscar of the food world - a coveted gold star.

You may have seen them on products, here's a 2 star bag of Kent Crisps I got served on a recent British Airways flight.


I was lucky enough to have been invited to be a judge because I cook, bake and write a lot about food and one of my pieces I wrote for the BBC about parmesan, I linked to the Great Cheese Awards, also organised by the Guild. It was from then, I was invited to take part.

So how do the products get their stars? It's simple, it's about taste, judge's taste the food in its naked state without the branding or fancy packaging. It could be a slice of bread, a scoop of ice cream, a teaspoon of butter, a flavoured oil, or a pie - sweet or savoury. If it needs cooking, the producer's instructions are followed to the letter.

A table made up of between four and six judges, and there can be up to 60 judges in a room, taste, confer, make notes and decide whether the product deserves 1, 2 or 3 stars. All the comments are noted onto a laptop by food writers who co-ordinate the comments, and the remarks are eventually collated and given to the producer of the product that's been entered. Each entry succeeds or ultimately fails on its taste, getting one star for being almost faultless, a two star for outstanding and three for the product that sets off a rocket in your mouth - believe it or not - these were incredibly rare. Every single product gets a fair crack at the whip, everything that's entered goes to at least two judging tables for tasting, the two star will get passed around more to be absolutely sure and the three star items will go around the whole room. Adjudicators keep a close eye on proceedings and if there's any issue whatsoever, step forward to make a decision based on judges' marks from all tables. During my time in Dorset Lisa Osman from the amazing All Hallows Cookery School and Brett Sutton who runs The White Post at Rimpton on the Somerset and Dorset border, were the go-to Arbitrators.

When a product is confirmed a 2 or 3 Star product, the Adjudicators tell the judging tables and there's usually a cheer or a round of applause in the room and little left for anyone to taste (unless the product began on your table) because it is simply so fabulous. By the time the process is over, at least 10,000 food and drink products will have been tasted over a whopping 50 judging days from April right through until the middle of July.

All 3-star Gold products are whittled down to the 50 best and from there shortlisted for the Golden Fork Awards which include regional winners, national winners and the Supreme Champion. More and more retailers want Great Taste products on their shelves and Harrods currently sponsor the awards.

When items are entered into the Great Taste Awards there's an entry fee, dependent on the producer's annual turnover, if that's less than £1million then it's £45 (+VAT) for each product, if it's more then it's £75 per product (+VAT). Supermarkets who earn considerably more, can enter their products for £150 (+VAT).

Special judging days for specific categories included herbal teas, cider, beer, olive oil, filter coffee, two days for tea, espresso and wine.

Throughout the whole process there are the Farrand's there to hand-hold but more to make sure that you have a fabulous experience. John is Managing Director and his father Bob is Chairman, who set up the Guild of Fine Food in 1994 with the aim of finding and promoting the best speciality food and drink producers throughout the United Kingdom and Ireland.

I judged for a total of 6 days, some in Belfast,


Photograph by Rebecca Williams

and we there gave this rather fine Irish bacon chop 2 stars. It was sweet, succulent with a light smoke and was everything you'd want in a bacon chop.


Photograph by Rebecca Williams

The other days I judged at the Guild of Fine Foods HQ in Dorset, close to the famous Gold Hill (remember the Hovis advert?)


Photograph by Rebecca Williams

I learned so much from so many judges on each table - I sat next to beef farmers, pig farmers, jam makers, cheesemakers, chocolatiers, in fact so many wonderful producers people whose knowledge and experience of food and drink was encyclopaedic at times. My experience was an absolute joy and I learned so much but most of all had a huge amount of fun. Thanks to all the judges who made my experience an unforgettable one and to the Guild for letting me be a part of Great Taste.

Results for this year's winners, and our comments for each product, are announced on August 11th.