In 1995 the Guild of Fine Food was formed in order to support and celebrate small artisan food and drink producers in the UK and Ireland. It has over 1,300 members and their Great Taste Awards are now recognised as the Oscars for food and drink producers.
Since their inception, they’ve judged over 100,000 products and to be able to display one of their iconic gold stars on your packaging, is a symbol of true quality that’s universally recognised.
This year the competition had 12,366 entries, from around the globe, with only 165 foods achieving the highest and most coveted three star rating. Eight of these came from Northern Ireland – Smoked Eel from Lough Neagh, Peter Hannan’s sweet cured bacon rack and Glenarm aged lamb rump, blackcurrant preserve from Erin Grove in Fermanagh, gin from the Echlinville Distillery in Kircubbin, Tempted Elderflower cider from Lisburn, Baronscourt Estate venison loin from Tyrone, Ispini bresola from County Down and Pacific Oysters from Rooney fish in County Down.
This year, for the first time, Food NI and Invest NI will have a stand at the Guild’s Speciality Fine Food Fair in London, starting tomorrow. I’ll be there cooking up dishes to showcase all the winners from here – we should be proud that it’s an embarrassment of riches with too many local award winning companies to mention.
When you have good natural food like perfectly aged lamb, delicately smoked eel or expertly cured charcuterie, there’s no need to mess around with it. Let the quality speak for itself.
Lamb rump is a cut from beside the leg – like a self-contained individual roasting joint with the perfect fat distribution. Gently fry to render down the fat and then finish off in the oven, rest and slice. Good lamb stands up to vibrant flavours so I do like to marinate this particular cut in spices, garlic, lemon, ginger and rosemary before cooking.
My first recipe shows you how to do this and make baba ganoush and pickled tomatoes to accompany it. Baba ganoush is a middle eastern aubergine dip – creamy, redolent of garlic and cumin and zingy with lemon. Aubergine gets a bad press – many times I’ve eaten it in restaurants served grey and al dente, so it’s no wonder. If you slice them, brush with oil and cook until golden in a hot pan, they’re delicious, especially when dressed with fresh herbs, chilli and something sharp like lemon or vinegar.
To make baba ganoush you roast the aubergines whole on an open flame – either your gas ring or bbq until they’re perfectly soft. Cool, split open and scoop out the flesh, which is fried to remove moisture, aromatics added and blended. Local grown tomatoes are at their late season best now. Pickling them with some coriander, mustard and cumin seeds is a great way of preserving them as well as being a burst of flavour to cut through the unctuous lamb and creamy aubergine.
To enjoy the three star charcuterie, eel, blackcurrant jam and oysters a treacle wheaten farl would be the perfect accompaniment to all of them – split open when hot and smeared with gold medal winning Abernethy butter. A perfectly traditional way to celebrate our massive recent food success.