Well, here I am, three days on, still ploughing through tasting sheets and judges’ comments – and realising, especially in the light of some of the comments on my previous blog, that the FreeFrom Food Awards are less of an industry award than a blueprint for how freefrom should progress in the world.
In my earlier post I asked which should be more important – deliciousness or innovation in terms of manufacturing technique – and was firmly slapped down by most of those who commented who maintained that products should be both innovative and delicious. So there is a challenge for you, food manufacturers….
However, those are not the only parameters that apply… There is also the nutritional profile, how gastronomically ‘wacky’ the food should be, whether we should be aiming for food exclusively manufactured on dedicated premises – and how important, in the overall assessment of the product, is its labellling.
When freefrom first got under way, no one cared about its nutritional profile as long as it actually was free from gluten/dairy/nuts etc. But we have, thank goodness, moved on. Along with the push to eliminate hydrogenated fats and reduce salt in our diet is a general aspiration towards food with fewer additives/manufacturing aids, made from ‘real’ ingredients. This is especially important in freefrom as most of those who eat freefrom food either already have compromised health or are anxious to maintain their health, so the nutritional content of their food is very important to them. So, in assessing a product for an award, we need to take its nutritional profile into account.
The ‘raw’ food lobby
Following on from this, where do what may be seen as rather ‘wacky’ foods, such as ‘raw’ foods, sit? They are certainly nutritious and have extremely ‘clean’ (eg no additives) ingredients lists but for many people they taste just plain weird. There were several ‘raw’ foods entered for this year’s awards and judges were neatly divided into those who thought they were absolutely delicious and those who thought they were totally disgusting. What does the poor chair do in that situation?…..
Then there is the dedicated plant argument…
Those with serious allergies or intolerances believe that the only way that they will ever be truly safe is if their food is manufactured in a ‘dedicated’ factory where their particular allergen is never allowed on the premsies. But those who operate in plants where specific allergens are also used, maintain that clean down methods are so thorough and so sophisticated that they can reduce the risk of contamination to a negligible level – and that even if a product is manufactured in a dedicated factory, that does not prevent it getting contaminated with an allergen once it leaves their factory and is no longer under their control. So even products made in dedicated plants are not 100% safe.
So are we only to include products made in dedicated plants? That would significantly reduce the number of products that were able to enter the awards meaning that the awards would really not give an accurate view of what was on the market and therefore be of little value to the consumer as a benchmark.
And then, what about labelling?
Accurate labelling is vital for a freefrom product. Shopping freefrom is a time consuming business when you have to scrutinise every ingredients list from top to bottom. The information given on pack needs to be accurate and easily legible. Should this be taken into account when judging whether a product deserves an award?
For once, judges were relatively united on this issue and agreed that inaccurate, confusing, obscurantist or illegible labelling would down-grade a product. The two most flagrant examples were a mix which claimed, in a large box, to be free of everything in the world, including dairy and then told you to make it up with milk – and a dried pasta that, in its allergens box, claimed that it ‘might contain’ amongst a series of other unlikely ingredients, ‘traces of molluscs and shellfish’…. For more on ‘may contain’ gone mad, see my post on Green & Blacks.
Judging food awards is, you would think, a fairly simple business – as long as you have some understanding of food and relatively well trained taste buds, you are away. But this is not really so for our awards because, as in all things to do with allergy, it is just not that simple….
For starters – what are you actually looking for in a freefrom product? Should it be an exact, freefrom replica of a product which would normally include major allergens such as gluten, wheat and dairy – or should it be a really nice/good/tasty product which would never include any major allergens anyhow?
For example, should you, in a chocolate tasting, be awarding rosettes to a really excellent dark chocolate that, by its very nature, is free of gluten, wheat and dairy and is a first class ‘gourmet’ product – or – should you be giving them to a product which has used clever and imaginative manufacturing techniques to replicate a much loved, popular milk chocolate brand but which has little to recommend it in terms of chocolate excellence?
Moreover, should you be rewarding the manufacturer who manages to exclude a range of allergens from a product over and above one who only excludes one allergen but makes a better tasting product?…. For example…
Manufacturer 1. makes a really delicious quiche with gluten free pastry but includes eggs, cheese and milk in the filling. Meanwhile, manufacturer 2. makes a quiche with gluten/wheat-free pastry and an egg and milk-free filling. This quiche, while tasting perfectly pleasant, does not come near quiche number one in terms of quiche-excellence. But to create it at all (given that the basic ingredients for a quiche are wheat-based pastry, eggs and milk) displays pretty amazing ingenuity on the part of its manufacturer. Moreover, it fills a gaping hole in the freefrom ‘offer’, and would be brilliant for anyone who is gluten, wheat, dairy and egg allergic/intolerant (and they do exist!).
So which one gets the rosette?
I am afraid that this argument raged after each judging session – and was never really resolved as new judges continued to have new input. And that was before we got round to discussing nutritional profile versus taste, ‘raw’ food versus conventional’, dedicated manufacturing units versus ‘deep-clean down’, the importance of labelling….. – for which, see posts 2, 3, 4 and 5 !
Today we completed just over a week of judging for the FreeFromFood Awards…. In fact, thanks to the superb organisation of the backroom staff, Cressida and Katherine, it all went amazingly smoothly and I had far more trouble keeping our panels of expert, but very opinionated, judges under control than anything else!
However, I am absolutely not complaining as the judges were fantastic (see the awards website for who they were) – knowledgeable about food, about food manufacturing, about ‘freefrom’ and, since many of them also suffered from food problems themselves, about living on restricted diets. Post-tasting discussions were very heated and raised a number of really interesting issues – which I will explore here when I have regained my breath!
Just checking in to apologise that February, so far, has been a blog-free zone – entirely due to Week One of the judging for the 2011 FreeFrom Food Awards which, thanks to the sterling efforts of our backroom staff, Cressida and Katherine, has gone extremely smoothly.
Week Two starts on Tuesday – after which comes the mind-boggling task of first reading, and then categorising, the scribbled comments of our really excellent panel of judges – a combination of 31 food professionals and allergy sufferers/coeliacs, some of whom have just judged one category, some of whom have made it through two or three days’ worth of judging!
A selection of their comments will be available in due course on the awards website – as will the shortlist for the 2011 awards. ETA? Late February/early March, to give plenty of time for suspense to build ahead of the presentations by Antony Worrall Thompson on April 6th at the Kew Bridge Steam Museum – attendance by invitation only…
What a treat we had last night! Delivered to our door, two delicious, ready-to-pop-in-the-oven, gluten-free and dairy-free pizzas!!
Home-delivered pizzas seem like a great idea but, despite the best efforts of those lethal young men on scooters, they are nearly always tepid when you get them, and if you pop them into the oven, somehow they always end up a bit dried up and curl-edged.
So, why not deliver them, not ready cooked, but ready to cook? Just as convenient (you still do not have to stir further from the sofa and the duvet than the oven) but with all the bubbling heat and freshness you would get from the highest class pizza oven? Well that was Joshua Beth’s idea – and I, for one, thoroughly approve.
From his kitchens in Fulham, he is now whizzing a great range of ready-prepared pizzas across London; all you have to do is to whip them into your preheated oven – and enjoy! Even better, he is offering gluten-free pizza bases as an option – and if you are also on a dairy-free diet, he will adapt his toppings to accommodate you!
Obviously, he is not operating out of a dedicate g-f/d-f kitchen, so ultra-sensitive souls should be wary, but for anyone else needing a gluten-free pizza, Joshua’s service is ideal.
So, what did they taste like? Well, he uses Doves Farm flours to make his bases and they come out rather like a thin and crispy version of a deep-dish base – if that makes sense… Thin and crispy-edged, slightly bready in texture but very tasty – and his toppings are delicious. We had a pepperoni and a mushroomy one and even though they had no cheese, they were really fresh and flavoursome. Most enjoyable! Can’t wait for my next delivery…
Cost? £6 to £14 per pizza depending on size and toppings.
If you live in London and wish to indulge (sadly, for now non-Londoners will have to make a trip to the big smoke) you need to contact Joshua at the Bake at Home Pizza Company or call him on 020 7736 1200 / 0758 143 4031. Let’s hope the idea catches on and he soon has branches ferrying ready-to-cook pizzas from Land’s End to John O’Groats!