A day in the life of a Great Taste Awards judge

Great Taste is the world’s largest and most trusted food and drink accreditation scheme.

“It’s alright for some!”

“Ooh aren’t you lucky?”

“Do you REALLY get to eat all those delicious things?”

Yes, yes and yes.  These are just some of the questions I get asked every year when I am asked to judge at the Great Taste Awards.  I have been fortunate enough to judge these prestigious and well-respected awards for 6-7 years and every year I start to get excited about my judging dates right about now.  After a dreary January and February, the thought of a trip to Dorset or into Borough Market to spend a few days with brilliant, food obsessed people tasting exciting products is just the tonic. 

These awards have been going since 1994 and since then nearly 200,000 products have been tasted and evaluated by over 500 industry experts.  The awards provide an independent seal of approval and reassurance to consumers to try something new.  Long before I was involved with the judging process I started using the familiar gold stars as a way to cut though the ever increasing myriad of new products on offer.  1 star means delicious, 2 stars outstanding and 3 stars exquisite! I’ve spent many a Christmas Eve scouring the shelves of upmarket delis and food shops for those gilded assurances of quality for presents for friends and family (top tip - no one ever complained about receiving a hamper of delicious treats).

So, what does a judging day look like? Well, no 2 are ever the same.  The day starts with coffee and excitedly catching up with fellow judges who haven’t seen each other for varying amounts of time – the Covid Years were particularly strange as in some cases we hadn’t seen anyone for months let alone other judges.  Then the day starts in earnest, tasting 30-40 products over the course of the day. Everything is tasted blind, no packaging or branding, nothing to give away any clues about the product to be tasted, naked and free from any signs to lead the judges.

Everything from olive oil and vinegar to single estate coffee and chocolate to charcuterie (domestic and continental) and cheese.  Then the salts, cakes, jams and marmalades, chilli sauces, ready meals, cider, tea, biscuits, roast beef, gammon, hogget and pork, peanut butter, dulce de leche, granola, gelato, gin… You get the idea.  If you laid out the entirety of a judges’ consumption on a plate it would look like a very strangely considered late night fridge raid or the end result of a supermarket sweep-style assault on a particularly swanky food hall armed with a fistful of wooden teaspoons and an armload of tiny paper cups.

The day ebbs and flows, the room descending to a quiet hush of epicurean murmurings and cogitations. After a long spell of no stars being awarded and the mood (and palate) starting to falter, the instant elation, like a welcome shot of Esmeralda Geisha, of tasting something truly exceptional changes everything. Eyes widening, a second then third bite or sip of whatever has jolted table 3 into chattering excitedly.

“Oh, a solid 2 stars, what do you think?” Flirting with the idea of wanting to say 3 stars but not wanting to over commit, like telling someone you love them on an early date. “Agreed, 100%..... but…..maybe more…?”.  Having found themselves at 3 stars the product in question is then sent to other tables to stand the test of more scrutiny. If agreed on by the various judging tables and adjudicators the 3-star bell sounds – the sound of true and genuinely exquisite deliciousness. A sensory crossover and a sort of reverse Pavlovian response where a bell sounds once the salivating has abated.  We should film it and play it backwards, that would be quite fun. But I digress.

The unearthing of a 3-star product is genuinely exciting, it’s what the judges hope to find, to discover something exceptional – much like Busted, it’s what I go to school for.  These products are rare, very rare – only about 2% of the products entered will be awarded this accolade – so if you see one when you are out shopping, put it in your basket!  That said, less than 10% of products are awarded 2 stars and only 25% are awarded one star so that gives you some idea of the scarcity and therefore immense value of these awards.

My relationship with these fantastic awards has changed in the past 4 years as I am not only an invested consumer, a judge but also now a producer, eagerly awaiting the results to see how our range from Tempus Foods has fared in the awards.  In the 3 years that we have been entering the Great Taste Awards Tempus has been awarded a total of:

8 x 1-star awards

8 x 2-star awards

A 3-star award has eluded us thus far but as we improve as a producer and hone our skills further, I have no doubt that we will get there. Maybe this year, maybe the next, but we will get there.

As a producer I trust the process implicitly – the judges are trained in what to look for from a technical perspective, but the emphasis is firmly on the taste. Over and above everything, is it delicious?  As a judge I know how robust and impartial the process is. As a producer I appreciate the value of the awards. And as a consumer I value the shortcut to quality that those gold stars represent.

From all 3 perspectives I cannot wait for this years judging. Seeing people from the industry who I have respected for years before I worked in food and now am fortunate to call friends. Tasting new and exciting products. And hopefully, when it is all over and the results announced, seeing a treasured 3-star award alongside Tempus Foods.

Here are some videos from the awards