2018 Blas na hEireann Supreme Champions, John and Rosemary Rooney from Rooney Fish

2018 Blas na hEireann Supreme Champions, John and Rosemary Rooney from Rooney Fish Don MacMonagle

The winners of this year’s Blas na hEireann – Irish Food Awards – were announced on Saturday in Dingle, Co. Kerry during the Dingle Food Festival, with Rooney Fish crowned Supreme Champion for their Millbay Oysters and Refuge Hot Chocolate took home Best Artisan Product.

Another stellar year for Irish food as highlighted by Blas na hEireann 2018. The Irish Food Awards are highly regarded as the best food competition in the country, highlighting artisan producers and their products and connecting buyers, media and the island’s food family over the course of the days of the event through judging, networking and social events, the winners’ showcase and Backyard at Blas, sponsored by Bank of Ireland. 

Fallon Moore & Artie Clifford from Blas na hEireann

Fallon Moore & Artie Clifford from Blas na hEireann

The two producers who took home the coveted big title awards of Supreme Champion and Best Artisan Product were Rooney Fish for their Millbay Oysters and Refuge Hot Chocolate, respectively. As with all producers, it is the people behind the products and their stories that really show the passion for their craft and business and deserves recognition as much as the product itself. These two winners are no exception...

Rooney Fish are a family-run business established in 1975 in Kilkeel, Co. Down. Now in its second generation, they specialise in catching, preparing and processing the finest catch from the waters surrounding Ireland.

In 2014, they opened an oyster farm in Carlingford Lough, close to their Kilkeel base, where they combine traditional methods with innovative, new ideas to produce their award-winning oysters Millbay Oysters

Refuge Hot Chocolate is a Belfast-based food company and social enterprise founded by Tara Mullan, making luxurious thick liquid chocolate that can be enjoyed hot or cold. Refuge Hot Chocolate was established as a social enterprise to help support survivors of human trafficking.

The artisan chocolate product is eco-friendly, fair trade and traffic free. Established in 2017, Refuge Hot Chocolate is sold at local markets and can be ordered directly from their Facebook page.

But they certainly weren’t the only winners at the weekend with 140 categories in the competition and a bronze, silver and gold given to winners for each, there were plenty of happy faces and celebrations in Dingle over the few days.

The Blas na hÉireann awards are the biggest blind tasting of produce in the country, and the criteria on which the product is judged as well as the judging system itself, which was developed by Blas na hÉireann with the Food Science Dept of UCC, is now recognised as an international industry standard.

During the first round of judging which took place over the course of four weeks in June and July, over 2,500 entries were judged in UCC and The Baking Academy, bringing the total number of finalists in each category down to just five. Those five winners in each of 140 categories were submitted to the judging day in Dingle, where all 350 producer finalists had their food products tasted, compared, savoured and judged at the final of Blas na Éireann 2018 on Thursday 4th October, with over 4,000+ samples tasted over the judging day by over 100 judges.

FOOD&WINE’s acting editor Dee Laffan was among the 100 judges and remarked on this year’s judging day and products, “As usual the team at Blas did a fantastic job running the competition, efficiently and professionally. They are a great team of people and it is a well-oiled machine after 11 years, but is the care they give to everyone that really shines. They always make you feel at home in Dingle.”

Judging at Blas na hEireann 2018

Judging at Blas na hEireann 2018

“For me, I felt the standards of products were high as always, but specific categories and products stood out. We have the best dairy in the world, there just is no doubt, and this comes through in our butter, milk, cheese and crème fraîche. Incredible quality across the board. Puddings, both black and white, are always competitively matched in quality, and the oysters were exceptional. I also tasted the most beautiful blackcurrant jam, which I’ve already purchased for home. I love coming away after the competition with new products to add to your larder or fridge. These were the standouts for me, that I tasted, but there were so many products and all producers in the final, after such a rigorous preliminary stage, should be proud.”

Attyflin Estate Blackcurrant Jam

Attyflin Estate Blackcurrant Jam

“I’d like to thank Artie, Fallon, their family and all the Blas team for a wonderful few days and for asking me to be a judge again this year. Looking forward to next year already!” commented Dee Laffan.

Keep an eye out on irishfoodawards.com for the full list of 2018 winners.