Judges being silly already – and we were only on Day 2 of 10!!! (Vicki of FreeFrom Fairy, Hailey of Allergy Adventures, Rachel of 7YearstoDiagnosis and Nathalie of Intolerant Gourmand, if you want to know…) However, I am glad to say that this was only a temporary blip in their otherwise admirable focus on duty…
Here are Claire of the Brand Incubator and Lorna Rhodes of Nutrition Dynamics looking much more suitably serious while assessing one of the amazingly ‘freefrom’ breads entered into the ‘No Top 14’ category.
And we are happy to say that again this year, No Top 14 was a rave success: 34 products none which contained even one of the 14 major allergens, ranging from breads through curry sauces, egg replacers, filled pasta, cakes, desserts, chocolates – even an alcohol free ginger wine! And all of which would have stood comparison with non-freefrom versions of themselves.
Equally encouraging was this year’s Innovation category. This has been a very variable category over the years – some years truly exciting (like year in which we first met the now ubiquitous coconut yogurt), some leaving one wondering whether entrants had actually grasped the meaning of the word innovation! But not this year…
Meat/fruit protein bars, individual mini pack soya milks (how long have freefrom travellers been asking for something like that…), milk and gluten-free blue cheese, aubergine spirulina chocolate puddings, all kinds of exciting pasta developments (yes, it is still possible!), a freefrom meat replacement which really did taste like chicken, a basil rice yogurt, a gluten-free low carb lager…….Look out for the shortlist in a couple of weeks time and it will give you an idea of how hard it was to come to a decision on gold and silver winners.
It was also good to see so many more pizzas – and excellent ones at that – entered this year into the Pasta and Pizza category which has always been dominated by pastas. (Here are Angela Mumby from Mrs Crimbles and Susannah of WideCircleCooking trying one of the ten pizzas entered.) Not that they outshone the pastas, but at least they held their own.
One of the other categories to get us super excited this year was Desserts and Puddings. Although coeliacs and those avoiding gluten have always been well catered for, those on milk free diets have had a pretty miserable time. Last year only a pathetic 20% of the entries were gluten and milk free. But this year….. Out of 24 entries, 22 were milk free as well as gluten free! Tiramisu’s, chocolate gateaux, steamed puddings, ‘ice creams’, cheesecakes, lemon meringue pies, chocolate ganache pots – and two gluten and dairy free chocolate eclairs!!! A holy grail for those avoiding gluten and dairy.
And indeed, the look on Sarah’s face says it all….. (Sarah is the latest recruit to our cooking and food prep team who is also coeliac and milk intolerant. We had allowed her up from her basement mole hole where she had been logging and sorting her 500 products, four fridge freezers and mountains of cardboard boxes, to join the desserts judging panel…)
And if this was not Paul’s (GlutenFreePSD) fourth whole eclair, it was certainly his third!!
Other categories? Store Cupboard – huge entry as usual. Xanthum gum, buffalo sauce (!!), pizza bases, mayos of all shapes and sizes, bread mixes, stuffings, pasta sauces (including some Swedish ones which caused near riot among the judges!), a nut free marzipan and even some gluten-free asafoetida – not an easy spice to find gf.
Superfoods and Sport Supplements, always enthusiastically championed by sponsors, Tiana coconut oil. Protein powders, endurance sports foods, protein chocolate drinks (best of both worlds!), protein snacks and peanut butters. And before you all write in to object, free of all 13 other allergens – and palm oil!!
Veggy Ready Meals – interesting entries including a milk and gluten free Mac’n Cheese, some noodle pots and some more meat alternatives.
And Savoury Snacks and Crackers. We had split this off from ‘Down the Pub’ this year and, happy to have their own category, the snack manufacturers came out in force. Pili nuts, activated nuts, plantain chips, mini cheddars, flat breads, bagel bites, puff pastry cheese bakes, Geosticks and Karma Bites!!
In fact it was as well that we had given them their own category as we had so many beer entries for Down the Pub that we had to set up two judging panels. (While you can lean on food judges to work their way through 30 odd savoury crackers, beer judges have to drink, not spit out, what they taste – and since gluten free beer is significantly stronger than non gluten free – asking them to taste 20+ beers did to seem like too hot an idea…) Mind you, since both groups wanted to know what else had been on offer, most of them did finally end up drinking 20+ beers – but by that time they were no longer being required to talk sensibly about them! Here are Panel 2, checking out what Panel 1 had been testing down in the kitchen while they had been upstairs.
And finally, of course, yesterday morning, Christine Bailey hosted the Children’s judging, at her home down in Reading – having already recruited 10 of the children that she works with to ‘sit on the panel’.
We had several new judges this year – two of them here, Hannah and Eva. Well, three if you also count Tiger…
Hannah had come with Eva and was interesting as she did not have any allergies so was able to benchmark the entries against ‘normal’ products. Encouragingly, there were very few that she could even differentiate from their ‘normal’ versions.
Surprisingly, we had no chicken nuggets this year – usually clear favourites both because they really do taste as good as the ‘normal’ ones and because they are the ideal food for sharing with their friends. However, we did have some fish goujons which are very much in the same league – here is Oscar, a seasoned Children’s category judge – spearing a goujon with obvious anticipation!
And sure enough, those eclairs made an appearance here too. Although Simeon (Christine’s son and also an experienced Children’s category judge) seems to be being rather more restrained than some of his adult fellow judges!!
Issue of the week?
Well, nothing new really… Just the eternally frustrating Precautionary Allergen Labelling (PAL) or ‘may contain’…. If a product does not carry any ‘may contain’ warnings does that mean that it does not need to and is totally safe – or does it mean that no one thought to check?
And if a product does not contain an allergen in the ingredients and it is made by a trustworthy, allergenically conscientious manufacturer, why have they only claimed gluten free when they could also have claimed milk/nut/soya etc free? Does that mean that they aren’t milk/nut/soya etc free?…. Of course it does not necessarily mean that at all – merely that they are not prepared to make that freefrom claim when there are still no regulatory ‘thresholds’ for those allergens as there are for gluten. Which means that they can never be sure that they would be free from prosecution if even a vanishingly small amount of that allergen was found in their product. Plus ça change…..
Roll on next week and see what that brings….