Southland and Otago producers honoured at awards

Rebecca and Quintin Hazlett with the family on Hukarere Station, West Otago.
Rebecca and Quintin Hazlett with the family on Hukarere Station, West Otago.
Sometimes finding the positive in the stories about New Zealand food is difficult especially in times of rising costs but it is not all bad for a group of Otago-Southland businesses whose hard work has been recognised with gold medals at the Outstanding Food Producer Awards, Rebecca Fox finds.

"Smooth and shiny" honey, "delicate and elegant" beef, "fresh buttery" lemon curd, "outstanding" flavoured chutney — they are just a few descriptions of Otago-Southland food products from the judges of one of New Zealand’s top competitions for food producers.

Eighteen products grown, raised and made in Otago and Southland won gold medals at the recent Outstanding Food Producer Awards judged at Auckland’s Homeland restaurant last month. A handful more got silver and bronze medals.

They were among 137 products to win gold, 76 to win silver and 48 bronze from 355 entries from 122 food and drink producers.

New Zealand food industry legend and awards head judge, Lauraine Jacobs, who led 23 judges assessing the products, said medals are a morale boost for producers affirming their hard work. They gave consumers a guide to locally made products that they can purchase with confidence.

One of the categories which stood out this year she said was honey with 10 products winning golds including three for Cardrona Valley’s Branch Creek honey.

“It’s so smooth and shiny. We love the natural crystallisation and the viscosity and colour are gorgeous. An excellent honey," judges said.

It built on the silver medal young beekeeper Jessica Curtis was awarded in her first year of operation. She said she took past feedback into account and tweaked a couple of products.

"I am thrilled with this year's results."

In recent times, she had launched new products such as the winning raw clover blend honey and comb honey, as well as trying to increase the brand’s presence online. She had also moved into suppling honey to local restaurants and cafes and had been doing a lot more farmers markets and events.

Meat with Us won a gold medal for its Certified Organic Ribeye Beef from West Otago.
Meat with Us won a gold medal for its Certified Organic Ribeye Beef from West Otago.
"I really love to get out into our community not only selling our products but also answering all sorts of beekeeping and honey related questions."

Likewise, Jacobs said the paddock category entries, specifically beef and lamb, demonstrated farmers were paying painstaking attention to growing exceptional grasses that allowed their animals to live on exemplary diets.

As a result, 16 entries won gold medals including Meat with Us for its Certified Organic Ribeye Beef, farmed and produced at Hukarere Station, West Otago. Judges described it as having: “a delicate and elegant flavour with good chew and great mouthfeel.”

Station owners Quintin and Rebecca Hazlett say winning the award is a huge honour for them.

"We are thrilled the judges could recognise the wonderful attributes our meat expresses which reinforces the customer feedback we have received.

"We have always believed we had a good product and this gives us the confidence to continue offering Meat With Us to more New Zealanders online."

They handpick the best beef and lamb from those animals they have bred and raised on their certified organic property.

"Customers know exactly where their meat is coming from and that it has been raised without the use of pesticides, hormones, GMOs or harmful chemicals."

They used beef genetics in their aim for superior eating qualities such as intramuscular fat and quiet temperament. They have even planted diverse pastures with multiple herbs, clovers and grasses and no longer winter crop to ensure their animals had choice in their diet all year round.

Alliance Group/Pure South meats also won four golds for its whole ribeye described as "tender as butter", 55-day aged ribeye "heartwarming", its venison five rib rack "melt in the mouth tender" and its french lamb rack "beautiful sweet lamb aroma" by judges.

Southern hazelnut growers also received praise with Davis Downs of Invercargill and Hazelnut Estate on the Taieri both awarded golds.

Branch Creek Honey’s Jessica Curtis is expanding her products.
Branch Creek Honey’s Jessica Curtis is expanding her products.
Davis Downs Homestyle Hazelnut Products took its own hazelnuts from its orchard in Makarewa and transformed them into a variety of products such as shortbread which judges liked for its nutty taste and flavour. Its hazelnut brittle was described as having a "rich colour and gloss" and its silver medal winning hazelnut pesto "lovely, bright fresh aroma" as well as the "outstanding hazelnut flavour" in their macarons.

"The inspiration behind them came from our desire to showcase the versatility and deliciousness of hazelnuts. We wanted to create products that not only tasted amazing but also highlighted the unique flavour profile of hazelnuts," Donna Downs said.

They also cracked their own hazelnuts on site, with the shells crushed down and spread on their orchard, as they aim to use every part of the hazelnut to minimise waste.

"Winning a medal is a tremendous honour and validation of our hard work and dedication. It's a testament to the quality of our products and the passion we put into creating them. It also helps to raise awareness of our brand and products, opening up new opportunities for growth and recognition."

The awards also highlighted the people who take Otago and Southland’s bounty of fruits and vegetables and turn it into award-winning chutney’s, preserves and curds.

Dunedin’s Port Larder owner Di Noones, a registered psychiatric nurse, wanted to pursue her creative side and loved cooking so three years ago started a business doing what she loved, preserving. She had enjoyed it when she lived on a high country run as it made her job feeding shearers easier and the menu more exciting.

Now she sells at the Otago Farmers’ Market and other outlets, her two golds and a bronze in this year’s awards came on the back of three golds last year and two silvers at the New Zealand Artisan Awards.

"It’s not about being good at something to be a winner, it’s about doing what you love and you become good at it, with a lot of hard work thrown in."

Fellow preserver, and Otago Farmers’ Market stallholder Danielle Culling, of Tartan Sari, won gold for her Spicy Tomato Pickle, the first recipe she got from her mum when she was feeling homesick.

"We have my Uncle Leslie to thank for this as he was convinced that using tomatoes in a pickle would taste amazing (and he wasn’t wrong!). So my parents tweaked the family recipe until they had the flavour just right, and this is the result."

Wānaka preserver Anna Cameron from Kitchen Window got three golds. Judges described her crabapple jelly as having great clarity, appearance and texture while her lemon curd was "fresh, buttery and light" and her nectarine and ginger chutney as being a "fantastic product".

Tartan Sari’s Danielle Culling and her spicy tomato pickle (below).
Tartan Sari’s Danielle Culling and her spicy tomato pickle (below).
"It's an acknowledgement of the years of hard work we've put in to date and gives us a boost of confidence to trust our gut and take the business to the next level."

Cameron had recently brought her sister on board and was planning a new kitchen at Jackson’s Orchard near Cromwell where people will be able to view them preserving as well as give them the opportunity to serve food.

Also to win gold was Tree Range Eggs which judges described as having "creamy whites, nicely coloured yolks. True egg colour and flavour".

Gold Medal winners are in contention for Category Champion Awards which will be announced on April 18.

Medal winners

Outstanding Food Producer Awards medal winners

Bronze medal

Augustines of Central Cranberries in Triple Sec

OCHO Chocolate Milk Chocolate 48% Papua New Guinea

OCHO Chocolate Salted Caramel 

Port Larder Pear and Walnut Chutney 

Donna Downs
Donna Downs
Tartan Sari Spicy Apricot Chutney 

Silver medal

Augustines of Central Earth Augustines of Central Feijoas in Pinot Gris

Otago Fresh Milk Raw Bottled Milk 

PURE New Zealand Ice Cream, Makrut Lime and Ginger Ice Cream 

Robbies by Mrs Pickles Honey Sloe Gin Pickled Onion 

Davis Downs Hazelnut Pesto Homestyle 

Davis Downs Hazelnut Macarons Homestyle

Gold medal

Meat with Us, Hukurue Station Certified Organic Ribeye Beef

Branch Creek Honey Creamed Clover Blend

Davis Downs Hazelnut Brittle.
Davis Downs Hazelnut Brittle.
Branch Creek Honey Earth Branch Creek Honey Raw Clover Blend

Branch Creek Honey Earth Branch Creek Comb Honey

Hazelnut Estate Hazelnut Chocolate Spread

Kitchen Window Crabapple Jelly 

Kitchen Window Lemon Curd 

Kitchen Window Nectarine & Ginger Chutney

Port Larder Apricot and Ginger Chutney

Port Larder Tomato Kasundi Sauce

Tree Range Eggs Gold

Davis Downs Hazelnut Shortbread

Davis Downs Hazelnut Brittle 

Tartan Sari Spicy Tomato Pickle