A Peek Inside the CT Specialty Food Awards Competition

Today marks the tenth year the CT Specialty Food Association has held a Product Awards Competition, and I was pleased to be invited to judge along with at least two other food bloggers, one former specialty food producer (whose pickles I still miss) and numerous chefs and cooks. It was pretty much all business as we received our tasting sheets, clip boards and pens then headed off to the tables to taste and evaluate the entries in the categories we had been assigned. Much to my relief, the tasting was blind, and therefore free of bias.

Can't Beet It! Hot Beets & Horseradish, Winding Drive Jams & Jellies Peach Jam, Killam & Bassette Chocolate Raspberry Jam, Dondero Orchards Strawberry Jam and Dondero Orchards Blueberry Rhubarb Jam were the best products I tasted in my assigned categories. Dondero's Blueberry Rhubarb was my favorite.

Jams, quick breads, snack foods, hors d’oeuvres and oils were my category assignments. I wondered how I would make it through 17 jams without suffering palate fatigue, but the diversity of flavors made it easy. There were four standouts in this category:  blueberry rhubarb, strawberry, peach and chocolate raspberry. The pieces of whole fruit in the first three signaled that they had been treated gently and held the promise of best of summer fruit flavors. I was right-consistently the jams that had whole fruit in them also had the best flavor and consistency. I admit to rating the first three best in show (we could only nominate from the categories we tasted).

The fourth jam that really interested me was the chocolate raspberry. Now raspberries are so fragile that I’m not sure it’s possible to make a  jam from them that actually has whole fruit in it, so that was never the expectation. I knew I had tasted raspberries and chocolate together before and thought the flavor was divine. Yes, it was The Farmer’s Cow Black Raspberry Moo Chocolate Chip ice cream. Raspberries and chocolate work. I can easily see this jam on the table at tea in a fine restaurant or hotel or on a breakfast plate with a freshly baked croissant or baguette.

In the hors d’oeuvres category, it was refreshing to see so many vegetable-based products. My favorite was the beet and horseradish dip, basically the most vibrant red beet finely grated, spiked with horseradish, and seasoned with some sugar, vinegar and salt. We’re all supposed to be eating more vegetables, right? So why not sneak some into in an appetizer we can prepare at home? Put the bread and crackers aside, I’m getting my Swedish up!  Tomorrow I’m hard cooking some eggs, halving them lengthwise, removing the yolks and filling them with the beets and horseradish.

After the judging closed, we were able to match what we tasted to the producer, and I was not at all surprised to see that my first and second-ranked jams were made by an orchard. Dondero Orchards blueberry rhubarb jam is my favorite, and their strawberry jam a very close second. Winding Drive’s peach jam bursts with the pure fruit flavor and was my third place pick.

The results of today’s competition will be released to the media no later than Monday, February 21, so check back for the results. I wonder if any of my picks will take first place or best in show. Whether they do or don’t, these products are worth seeking out.

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