Every summer 350 food experts convene for 45 days of blind taste tests to find Britain's best produce. Mary Griffin asks which Midlands products made the grade in this year's Great Taste Awards and finds an unlikely local producer has won a prized place among the 50 best edible products in Britain.
Many shoppers would recognise the Great Taste Award logo with its gold stars on a black background.
But few realise how many hurdles have been jumped before an item of food or drink wins that label.
Nearly 9,000 products were entered in this year’s awards, ranging from cheeses and shellfish to green tea and truffles.
Each entry is rigorously scrutinised by 350 top chefs, food writers, restaurateurs and fine food retailers who have only a description of the product before them but no packaging or branding.
Working in small teams, they taste 25 foods in each sitting, discussing the appearance, smell, texture and flavour of each.
And if the tasters deem the product to be worthy of a gold award, it must go forward to be judged by at least two further teams, with 16 judges having to reach a consensus before a gold star is awarded.
For a three-star gold, every single judge attending the session, which can be as many as 30, has to unanimously agree that the product delivers that indescribable ‘wow!’ factor.
Of all this year’s entrants, less than a third won a gold award and only 123 (that’s just 1.4 per cent) won three stars.
But a fruit juice made by Warwickshire College went a step further, not only gaining the three stars but being selected as one of the top 50 best tasting products in Britain.
The pear juice is the product of fruit from the college’s own orchard, pressed in a juicing facility used to teach local growers how to turn their harvests into bottled juice and cider.
In between running training courses to show farmers across the region how to turn their bruised or misshapen fruit into a valuable product, the college transforms its own harvests into own brand juices, ciders and perries.
Staff and students have been making apple juice and cider since 1992 in the converted tool shed and fertiliser store at Warwickshire College’s Pershore campus in Worcestershire.
Richard Toft, who oversees the juicing enterprise, says: “We’ve been looking for ways to develop our products and find different things to do.
“The pear juice is probably now our product with the highest accolade.”
Mixing the Concorde variety of pear with Bramley apples, judges said the juice was “cleverly balanced”, with a “lovely aroma” and “good depth and length of flavour”.
While the accolade is a welcome boost to the college’s juicing sideline, for many small businesses, awards are a way of competing against the supermarkets.
Rod Adlington, a specialist poultry producer in Balsall Common, is over the moon that two of his products have earned a gold star in this year’s awards.
Started by Rod’s grandfather 70 years ago, Adlington Ltd’s smoked turkey with juniper berries and its applewood ham both won the judges’ seal of approval.
Its flagship smoked turkey was also named supreme champion at the Heart of England Fine Food Awards two years ago.
Rod says: “We tend to try and win something every year. We’re not scared of putting ourselves out there!