Two weeks ago I ate over 40 different kinds of pickles. Aside from the lacto fermented bloat that any human belly undoubtedly suffers after sampling that many pickled products, the experience was memorable and delicious. How, you may ask, did I get myself into such a situation? It’s the second annual Good Food Awards, of course.
The Seedling Projects‘ Good Food Awards celebrate a desire to taste delicious food products that are produced in socially and environmentally responsible ways. The idea brings to light the nation’s standouts in a variety of edible categories. Since last year’s successful breakout, which awarded 71 entries in seven categories, the stakes have grown. The 2011-2012 categories, expanded to eight total, are: Beer, Charcuterie, Cheese, Chocolate, Coffee, Pickles, Preserves, and Spirits. I was honored to be a part of the process as a pickle judge.
On October 9, a crowd of Good Food professionals from all over the country crowded into San Francisco’s the HUB SoMa to conduct a blind tasting of the 926 entries from 46 states. Having already gone through a self-certifying process to ensure trace-ability, worker’s rights, and zero pesticide use, the judges set out to narrow the competition down to the top three in each category from each of the five regions (North, South, East, West, Central). The highest picks will go through one last review before being announced as finalists on November 10th.
Hard work indeed. Each category was distinct, and the small “pods” that were formed to conduct the initial morning tasting became like study groups. We smelled, sipped, chewed, and sometimes spit, eyeing every detail and noting every observation to be absolutely sure of our good, bad, and ugly determinations. Coffee judges buzzed around with clipboards, cupping and slurping in their own private glassed-in laboratory. Cheese people wielded through wheels and wedges, perhaps with one of the most daunting and caloric tasks of the day. Except for the charcuterie judges, who hefted through platefuls of animal product, seeking relief with sparkling water. Beer folks seemed to have a great time, and shared the wealth as the day went on. The chocolate area shined with little squares and foil wrapped delights. Judging the spirits category was another challenging job, tulips of various hued liquids lined up in front of the brave in countless rows. Hushed groups of preserves tasters had their work cut out for them, and then us pickle pickers persevered through salty, sweet, tart, and tangy.
After a light lunch–yes, it’s a good idea to eat other food groups in this kind of situation–we gathered once again, this time in our larger entities to score the entries. It was a chance to revisit the ones we had already tried, and to try the ones our cohorts had already visited. This is when the real discussions began and when the categories started to cross over borders. The palate cleansers that we all needed and had been researched to effectively pair with each category, started to be replaced by more personal and intuitive selections. Cheese snuggled up to the beer table, jam went over to cheese, beer traveled across to the charcuterie section…and then moved around to the other seven areas after that.
This January, the finalists will be awarded their seal at a ceremony, bringing bling and recognition to their accomplishment as Good Food producers. They will also have the opportunity to sell their products at the Good Food Marketplace the next day, which is also where the rest of us that might be in the vicinity can purchase the actual goods. One of the largest benefits to the chosen finalists is the publicity their award will accrue, and the sponsors such as Whole Foods, Gilt Taste, Foodzie, and Williams-Sonoma that will highlight their product all around the nation, letting those of us who aren’t close by know how to find them. But most of all, the best thing about the award is its nod to food that is Good, in every way. Winning producers are rewarded for their authenticity, care for the world around them, and most of all, their integrity and commitment to a Good Food movement.