A couple of virtually hand-reared free-range pigs on a farm near Waimate in South Canterbury has taken the title of Supreme Winner in the third annual Cuisine Artisan Awards, proudly sponsored by Caffe L`affare.

From a high-quality, wide-ranging field of wonderful New Zealand artisan entries, Havoc Prime Pork’s traditionally dry-cured Yorkshire black bacon has been judged the very best by Cuisine magazine’s expert panel.

Ten years ago, Havoc owners Linda and Ian McCallum-Jackson drew up a business plan for the country’s only paddock-to-plate pig farm over dinner at a Dunedin restaurant on a now-framed napkin. They make bacon “the way it used to be”, with no added liquid and smoked using natural fruit woods, not a chemical liquid painted on as in many commercial versions.

Their Yorkshire black bacon started as a family favourite which they began to sell at the Otago Farmers’ Market in 2009. Rekindling memories of the way bacon used to taste, customer reaction said it all and today the McCallum-Jacksons keep two butchers and one apprentice busy fulltime in Waimate.

“We feel like we jumped off a cliff to do this, so it’s extra special to receive such an honour. It validates everything we are doing,” says Linda.

Havoc’s bacon was one of just 12 winning products selected by Cuisine from a shortlist of 35 impressive products. Says head judge, Cuisine deputy food editor Fiona Smith: “From specialty jams, honey and pastes, to hot-smoked salmon, gourmet yoghurts and puddings, the 2011 entrants covered a wide range of locally crafted products and they were all standouts. New Zealand’s artisan food producers are on a roll.”

Another star performer, Heilala Vanilla was named runner-up for its pure and intense vanilla paste. “Simply the best,” said the judges of this fantastic vanilla that grew out of an act of kindness. Retired farmer John Ross went to help rebuild the Tongan village of Utungake, on Vava’u, after a storm hit the island in 2002. He turned spare land offered by the appreciative chief into a vanilla plantation, providing work for the locals and now producing close to two tonnes a year. Heilala vanilla beans are sun-dried in Tonga before going to home base in Tauranga to be made into extract, paste or syrup.

Ross’s daughter and Heilala marketer Jennifer Boggiss says more than a year of research with Massey University went into perfecting the vanilla paste. “We are delighted with the end result which is an economical and consistently delicious 100-per-cent pure vanilla flavour.”

In addition to the Supreme Winner and Runner-Up, Cuisine singled out a further 10 winning products for special recognition as the country’s top artisans.

Canterbury was the standout region, home to five winners, including the Supreme Winner. Kate Addis of Addmore Products followed up her previous success as Cuisine 2010 Artisan Awards runner-up (an elderflower cordial) with a sparkling, super-refreshing elderflower rosé – a second “summer in a bottle”. Fellow Runner-Up in 2010, J Friend and Co also rekindled childhood memories with another single-source, single-varietal, organic honey, beechwood honeydew. Clearwater’s Organic Dairy was lauded for its “beautifully balanced, proper real” cream top yoghurt with a touch of clover honey. And family-owned Akaroa Salmon was recognised for its hot-smoked salmon – “very elegant, nice and clean in the mouth and not oily”.

Other Cuisine 2011 award- winners included:
• Dollop Puddings’ smooth-pouring vanilla bean custard with its luscious texture of crème anglaise
• Ludbrook House for its slightly spicy, Northland-grown pickled limes (its dessert figs were a winner in the 2009 Cuisine Artisan Awards)
• Orcona Chillies’ aromatic, flavoursome harissa paste
• Piako Gourmet Yoghurt’s lime zest frozen yoghurt, capturing the tart and true flavours of the fruit
• Salumeria Fontana, a Supreme Winner of the 2009 Cuisine Artisan Awards, was again applauded, this time for its deliciously juicy Toulouse sausage spiral
• The Damson Collection’s damson jam, a sequel to its winning damson paste in 2010

Cuisine editor Sarah Nicholson says the artisan industry is flourishing in part through the numbers flocking to farmers’ markets to buy produce. “Here people can see, touch and try new products – often homemade in kitchens – just like our great-grandmothers used to make.”

Says Sarah: “We want to celebrate our artisan heroes. They are the ones out there, rolling up their sleeves and throwing all their passion into producing great-tasting food. We salute them and these awards are our way of recognising and rewarding them for a job well done.”

Artisans produce handmade or individually crafted goods, generally on a small scale and often according to traditional practices. They frequently sell through one or more of New Zealand’s 50 farmers’ markets. To be eligible for the Cuisine Artisan Awards, businesses must have an annual turnover of less than $5 million.

Profiles of the winners feature in the March issue of Cuisine, on sale from 21 February, which also includes Fiona Smith’s recipes showcasing the winning products.

Cuisine’s winning artisans will display their products at the Monteith’s CheeseFest event at the Langham Hotel, Auckland on 2 March from 5pm-9pm.

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