I am just sitting at my desk looking out into a soggy, but still steamy, garden and thinking how lucky we were with the weather for the Foods Matter tasters’ summer Pimms party yesterday!
As long-time FM supporters will know, we have a roster of tasters (some foodies, some coeliacs or food intolerants, some just ‘normal’ people) who have been showing up at FM headquarters and applying their taste buds to serried ranks of freefrom foods for the last several years. Originally this was so that we could get feed back on groups of free from products (gluten-free breads or cakes, dairy-free milks or ice creams etc) for the tasting tables which we published each month in the Foods Matter magazine. In these we aimed to give readers an overview of what was available in that particular category and what it was free from, what it tasted like, where you could buy it, what it cost etc.
Then, three years ago, we decided that ‘freefrom food’ was becoming such a significant part of the weekly food shop that we would use our tables as the basis for freefrom food awards. And so we did, the first presentation being made by Antony Worral Thompson, a long-time FM and FF supporter, in his restaurant in Notting Hill in 2008. They were a huge success.
Indeed, the freefrom food industry really took our awards to their hearts and have been hugely supportive ever since. Scarcely a day goes by that we do not get some new company contacting us to tell us about their products (last year we had over 150 entries for some categories) while the presentation party (in the lovely 18th century Burgh House in Hampstead in 2009 and in the delightfully quirky London Canal Museum in 2010) is now known as the best networking party in town! To get a flavour read Alex Gazzola’s account on the awards website.
And through all the years our faithful band of tasters, their perceptions honed to appreciate the aroma, texture, appearance and taste of anything from wild-raspberry-fruit-filled gluten-free biscuits or coconut ‘ice cream’ to Estrella Daura gluten-free Â beer, have Â been on duty at least once a month to sip, savour and record their comments. They have been rewarded each year with a Christmas party at which I am afraid they still had to taste, but were allowed to do so in party hats and wash their samples down with mulled wine but this year we thought we would push the boat out and go for a summer party too! We even let them off ‘tasting’ anything just plying them with sufficient Pimms to ensure that FM’s Cressida (a mean pingpong player and a fearsome competitor who does not take losing lightly) would win the post prandial pingpong tournament!
The summer party was also a sort of ‘thank you and farewell’ as, so big have the awards become over the three years, that we are having to move on from our friendly evening tasting sessions where the tasting for the night would be followed by supper, lots of organic red wine and good company, to a week of formal judging and tasting sessions early next year which will take place during the day and thus preclude many of our current tasters from taking part.
Ah well, such is the price of success! Anyhow, it is very encouraging for those who have to live on freefrom food that not only are there now so many free from foods on the market but that they are continually improving in quality to the point that in several sectors they are now as good, if not better, than the original non-freefrom versions.
As evidence of the improvement, take a look at the reviews of new freefrom products on the foodsmatter.com website; as evidence of quantity, just take a look at our directories! And to know who is going to come out tops in 2011, keep an eye on the awards website…