Forty-two products from 27 producers from across England, Wales and Northern Ireland are celebrating winning a prestigious National Trust Fine Farm Produce Award this year.
The awards, supported by Freedom Food and now in their eighth year, celebrate the breadth and quality of produce grown, reared or made on special places owned or managed by the National Trust, including tenant farms, orchards and gardens.
This year’s overall winner was voted as fallow deer venison from the National Trust’s Belton Estate in Lincolnshire.
The 300-strong fallow deer herd at the Belton Estate has roamed the land for the past 300 years. All the deer are born and raised on the estate, which is managed by the National Trust team.
Head Ranger and Deer Manager, Chris Shaw, said: “Fallow deer is a much less gamey meat than red deer. The flavour of the meat comes from the 750 acres of wild flower pasture on the Belton estate that the deer graze. Deer are browsers and they eat a wide range of vegetation including grass, flowers, horse chestnuts, beech seeds and lime leaves which all enhance its flavour. We don’t supplement their feed so they are encouraged to forage all around the estate.
“Venison has had a bit of a renaissance in the last few years and we are now able to sell most of our meat locally and serve it in the on site restaurant and the estate shop.
“Winning the award is the icing on the cake. A lot of hard work goes into managing the herd including a lot of early starts on cold mornings. It’s really great to be recognised – and makes it all worthwhile.”
Richard McGeown, chef judge, gave the venison the highest praise: “This is an exceptional product. I think this venison is one of the best meat products in the country.”
This year, six new entrants and nine new products received the coveted ‘stamp’ for the first time, including rape seed oil from Warren Farm in Herefordshire, cider from Mac Ivors Cider Co in Northern Ireland, Organic Wool from Tamarisk Farm in Dorset and Apple Juice from Dunham Massey in Cheshire.
James Hawkins from Warren Farm said: “We’ve farmed our 520 acre farm for the past 11 years. Last year we decided to move into rapeseed oil production adding value to a crop produced on the farm.
“Since starting production this year we have already bottled and sold 1,000 litres of oil and plan to increase this to 2,500 in 2014.
“Winning this award recognises the quality product we produce on the estate and is the springboard to push it further afield.”
Other winners this year included clotted cream, Pembrokeshire new potatoes, strawberry jam, lamb, beef and duck eggs. They will all now be able to use the coveted Fine Farm Produce Award marque to help market their products.
Rob Macklin, Head of Food and Farming at the National Trust and chair of the judging panel, said: “This year’s award winning foods have really captured the essence of the special place where they have been grown, bred or produced. It is our aim to really connect customers to where their food comes from and these awards are a great way for us to do this.
“Since 2006, over 250 products have received a Fine Farm Produce Award and this year’s winners will join a group of some of the very best producers that the country has to offer.”