Two producers have risen to the top to be crowned overall food and overall drinks winner at this year’s Fine Farm Produce Awards.
The annual awards celebrate the very best produce from the National Trust’s 1,500 tenant farmers and estates across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Products not only have to excel in the obligatory taste test, but entrants also have to pass a checklist of environmental standards to guarantee the quality and origin of ingredients alongside high standards of production. The winners are decided by a judging panel consisting of 10 food and drink experts.
This year 25 producers in total were recognised for 45 outstanding food, drink and countryside products ranging from beef to honey and flour to turkey and mushrooms.
Overall food winners Neil and Sally Grigg from Devon previously worked in London, Neil as a chartered accountant, and Sally as a chartered surveyor before they decided to change careers and move back to the South West to live and work in the countryside and to have a better work, life balance.
The couple have been at Burrow Farm since 2007 where they manage their herd of 130 traditional Red Ruby Devon cattle.
Neil says: “This breed of cattle is native to the local area and is a slow-maturing animal which fattens very well on our hay meadows.
“The Red Ruby produces a good quality, tender meat with wonderful marbling.”
Neil and Sally are also keen to make sure that the local area benefits from their farming practices. Neil continues: “We’ve reinstated three kilometres of hedgerow, added new wildlife borders and planted nesting areas for the local birds. The replanting of hedgerows and borders has also proved fruitful foraging for the local bat population, which are native to the nearby Ashclyst woods.
“Being recognised in this way gives us a massive sense of achievement for all the hard work we’ve undertaken. Of course, it’s a great thing to be able to tell our customers too and gives them additional confidence when buying our meat and is a sign of quality to them.”
Overall drinks winner Robert Wicks from the Westerham Brewery in Kent has been a keen brewer since the age of eight.
After University, and a 16 year stint as an investment banker, he decided to revive one of Kent’s most loved traditions by opening Westerham Brewery on Grange Farm in 2004.
Since then the brewery has become renowned for its exceptional craft beer and sustainable production methods.
Robert says: “We use quality, local ingredients to include Kentish Hops grown at the nearby Scotney Castle garden and the local water, which filters through Greensand aquifer, is ideal for brewing.
“The brewing operation is designed to be as green as possible and to minimise waste. Hops make fantastic compost for flower beds, and are used at nearby Chartwell. Our brewer’s grain goes to the local dairy farmer, so in terms of waste there’s very little.”
This desire to reduce waste is also extended to the finished product – no plastic or shrink wrap is used in the packaging and the beer itself comes in ultra-light recyclable glass bottles.
Robert’s brewery now produces nearly a million pints of beer every year – going to over 300 Kent pubs, National Trust shops and restaurants, and supermarkets nationwide.
With the resurgence in craft beer’s popularity, Westerham Brewery is on the up. Robert concludes: “It is very hard to quantify the impact of winning the awards, but the National Trust logo is well recognised and respected and I am sure it has boosted sales.
“The profile of the awards really helps us raise awareness of what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.”
Rob Macklin, Head of Food and Farming at the National Trust, and chair of the judges said: “The awards are unique because of their focus on three key areas – taste, production methods and environmental standards.
“As Europe’s largest conservation charity it is really key for us that our producers reflect our whole reason for existing – and customers can rely on the fact that every product having the awards ‘stamp’ not only tastes great, but is produced in a way that cares for the land which not only works alongside nature, but is also farmed sustainably for future generations to enjoy.
“The feature that best characterises the winning producers is their attention to detail. Factors such as quality of diet, livestock breeding, crop varieties and methods used in growing and manufacture underpin the presentation and performance of the final products
“Every year the producers raise the bar and many of the products receiving the prestigious marque really are the ‘best of the best’.”