This is what we like to see – a room full of judges fully focused on the job in hand! And it is some job this year, with well over 500 products to judge over the two week period.
I am also delighted to be able to report that the standard of the entries so far has been really exceptional – and really exciting. We had some genuinely innovative products entered into the Innovation Award – which has not always been the case! (For more on her faves in the Innovation category see GlutenFree Mrs D’s blog here.) And we had nearly 50 products entered into the our new ‘No Top 14 allergens’ category! We had thought that we would get about ten so we were gobsmacked! (For ForEverFreeFrom’s faves see Benjamin’s blog here.) Obviously, we can give no hint of what might even get as far as the shortlist yet but, there will be a lot!!
Our judging system, which has proved pretty reliable over the years, remains essentially the same. Judges are given a sheet for each product which is that entrant’s entry form with just their name removed. All other information remains as they input it so that, in theory, it is correct and we cannot mess it up. Well, that is the theory. In fact, entrants are not good at filling in forms and for around 25% of the products in each category we have to refer back to the pack to see what the pack actually says, that being, of course, the important bit.
All products are judged ‘blind’ – in other words the judges do not get to see the packaging, just the food. Here are Catherine and Katherine preparing the sweet ‘Store cupboard’ products. (For the GlutenFree Centre’s assessment of the Store Cupboard category see here.)
The judges need to assess each product on the basis of its appearance, aroma, texture and taste. But they also need to take into account its nutritional profile. Many of those eating freefrom food have health issues and therefore we are keen for them to eat healthy products, not those in which the gluten/dairy has just been replaced with extra sugar or fat. We also ask judges to consider whether there is a real need in the freefrom market for this product – do we really need another gluten free chocolate brownie, no matter how delicious? Also, how difficult it is to make. Making a good gluten-free chocolate brownie, even a gluten and milk-free chocolate brownie is not a major test of a manufacturer’s skills and ingenuity whereas making a gluten and milk-free pain au chocolat seriously is!
We ask judges to remain poker faced during this process so as not to influence fellow judges. They are pretty good in the morning but, I must admit that as the day wears on, it gets harder. As you can see Tom Treverton from the Allergy Show has remain focused here, but Steve Walpole and Gill Jacobs are slightly losing the plot!!
All judges are asked to make comments on the products that could be helpful to the manufacturers (these are fed back after presentation) and to give a mark out of ten. I then take everyone’s top marks, do a very complex bit of mathematics which involves a number of fingers and a calculator, and come up with the highest scorers. However, the highest may not always be (indeed often is not) the winner. So we then have what can be quite a heated argument over what should actually win. Because we have such a very diverse range of judges (product developers, chefs, cookery writers, nutritionists, dietitians, bloggers, food writers and a large number of coeliacs and allergy sufferers – or parents of allergic or coeliac children) they can have very different ideas of what they really want from a winning freefrom products. Hence the heated arguments. But hopefully that gives a good perspective both for the freefrom consumer who will buy the products – and for the manufacturers.
So – high points from week 1 for us?
Seeing Besma of Curiously Conscious and a new judge this year, eyeing up a platter of milk-free chocolate mousses that she was actually going to be able to taste, having had to pass up on the previous six offerings as they were only gluten-free and she is dairy free!
Interestingly, a day later it was Jenny Tschiesche, the LunchBoxDoctor and Liz Allan who were feeling deprived as Jenny cannot eat tapioca and Liz cannot eat buckwheat – both extremely popular alternative flours in a very wide range of gluten-free products. Which only goes to show that no matter how hard to you try cannot please all of the people all of the time!
Other high points? The amazing range of gluten-free beers. Unfortunately I was too busy pouring to take any pictures of the judges judging, but here are many of the beers lined up pre and post their assessment.
And… The cries of joy from Nathalie of the Intolerant Gourmand when she found a product which would be suitable for Callum, her four year old son who glories in 28 serious allergies, 13 of them anaphylactic! I am not sure whether this magnum look-a-like actually turned out to be Callum safe, but she certainly looks hopeful!
(For more on how to cope with that many allergies – and to end up with a cheerful and healthy little boy who has just completed his first term at school – and acted in the panto! – see the first few articles on this page of the Foods Matter site.)
And of course, the children’ category which we judged yesterday, as always, at Christine Bailey’s house in Reading. But they deserve a blog all to themselves! Coming up….. Meanwhile, on to next week – and remember…
…until you are needed!!
If you want to how more about the FreeFrom Food Awards – check in to the site here.