As British Food Fortnight begins, 200 leading local food and drink businesses came together to celebrate the winners of Sussex Food & Drink Awards 2021 and the recovery of the industry, at the Sussex Food & Drink Business Revival in Borde Hill Gardens, Mid Sussex today [22 September], with support from Visit Britain.
“The Covid pandemic has made the past eighteen months one of the toughest times in living history for food and drink businesses in Britain,” said Paula Seager, co-director of Natural Partnerships CIC who runs the Sussex Food & Drink Awards with Hilary Knight.
“When pubs, cafes and restaurants were forced to close, they lost their business and at the same time, food and drink producers that sell their produce to them lost their customers over night, but Sussex businesses rose to the challenge with creativity and generosity of spirit. So many came up with ingenious ideas to keep their staff employed, to support the vulnerable in their local communities and to find new ways to get their products and services to market.
“Now as recovery comes slowly forward and business returns to a new normality, we urge people to use British Food Fortnight as an excuse to visit your local farm shop and try out wines, beers, cheeses, meat, baked goods, confectionary and all the other delicious food and drink that is made, reared and caught right here in Sussex and the South Downs. Visit your local independent bakeries, butchers, delis, restaurants, cafes and pubs, ask for something that is made locally and enjoy the real taste of Sussex.”
Guest speaker and awards sponsor, Ben Milford, director of R.P. Meats and Blakes Foods based in Brighton, described how the pandemic hit his own businesses so hard, there were moments when they weren’t sure they could survive.
“I can say with confidence that had we not pivoted the business so quickly, creating a new fleet and switching from delivering to hospitality businesses to door to door delivery direct to homes, we wouldn’t still be in existence today, despite having been around since the late 70’s and having survived several recessions; this was definitely worse.
“Of course, we’re not the only ones to have done this. We’ve seen so many Sussex food and drink companies coming up with incredibly creative new activities to keep the wolf from the door and stay in business over the last two years.”
Allison Ferns, from BBC Sussex, compered the event and led the cheers for the winners of the Sussex Food & Drink Awards 2021, who have been unable to enjoy their accolade at an awards banquet for the first time in the prestigious awards’ 15-year history.
Before reading out the names of the winners, who posed for photographs with their trophies, she said, “It’s British Food Fortnight, so it is fitting that today is all about kickstarting our amazing local food and drink industry after such a grim couple of years. And seriously, after Brexit and Covid, people in Britain need you more than ever; to keep on creating delicious local food and drink, and to bring us a little cheer in what can be grim times.”
The Sussex Food & Drink Awards 2021 winners are:
Sussex Food Producer of the Year, sponsored by Southern Co-op
WINNER: Jengers Craft Bakery, Billingshurst, West Sussex
GRAND FINALISTS: Bangers Galore, Horsham, West Sussex; and The Sussex Biltong Co, Balcombe, West Sussex
Sussex Drink Producer of the Year, sponsored by Natural PR
WINNER: Long Man Brewery, Litlington, East Sussex
GRAND FINALISTS: Bolney Wine Estate, Bolney, West Sussex; and Ridgeview Wine Estate, Ditchling Common, East Sussex
Sussex Butcher of the Year, sponsored by RP Meats Wholesale Ltd
WINNER: Tablehurst Farm, Forest Row, East Sussex
Cottenhams of Lindfield – Craft Butchers, Lindfield, West Sussex; and Nick The Butcher, Hartfield, East Sussex
Sussex Farmers Market of the Year, sponsored by Harvey’s Brewery
WINNER: Lewes Farmers Market, East Sussex
GRAND FINALISTS: Horsham Market (Saturday), West Sussex; and Shoreham Farmers Market, West Sussex
Sussex Eating Experience of the Year, sponsored by Lloyds Bank Cardnet
WINNER: The Fig Tree, Hurstpierpoint, West Sussex
GRAND FINALISTS: Into The Blue, Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex; and The Cat Inn, West Hoathly, West Sussex
Sussex Food Shop of the Year, sponsored by Sussex Food and Drink Network
WINNER: Rushfields Farm Shop, Poynings, West Sussex
GRAND FINALISTS: Jeremy’s Two, Cowfold, West Sussex; and Veasey & Sons Fishmongers, Forest Row, East Sussex
Sussex Newcomer of the Year, sponsored by SRC-Time
WINNER: Heritage by Matt Gillan, Slaugham, West Sussex
GRAND FINALISTS: Heritage Wheat, Keymer, West Sussex; and Skylark Cafe Restaurant, Eastbourne, East Sussex
Sussex Street Food of the Year, sponsored by Horsham District Foodies supported by Food Rocks
WINNER: Mann & Moore, Horsham, West Sussex
GRAND FINALISTS: Pizza Leonati, Hooe, East Sussex; and The BBQ Project, St Leonards on Sea, East Sussex
Sussex Young Chef of the Year, sponsored by Blakes Foods
WINNER: Dan Ibbotson from etch. in Brighton & Hove
GRAND FINALISTS: Freddie Innes, who was working at Ockenden Manor Hotel, Cuckfield, West Sussex; and Thomas Thwaites from Rathfinny Tasting Room, Alfriston, East Sussex
Young Sussex Farmer of the Year, sponsored by Natural Partnerships CIC in association with Farmers Weekly magazine
WINNER: Dan Hird, Lambert Farm, Plumpton, East Sussex
GRAND FINALISTS: Conor Haydon, who was working at Goodwood Estate, Chichester, West Sussex; and Dan Wells, who was working at Holmbush Farm, Balcombe, West Sussex
“Congratulations to all our fantastic winners. Over the last decade, Sussex has really earned its place as one of the leading counties in the UK for producing superb food and drink and this year’s winners line up offers an impressive range of first class, diverse businesses from across the county,” said William Goodwin, chairman of the judges.
The awards, carried over from 2020, received 17,000 public votes from members of the public and there were 30 Grand Finalists, 18 from West Sussex, 11 from East Sussex and one from Brighton & Hove, with categories covering everything from farm to plate.
Anyone who wants to join in the celebrations for British Food Fortnight this year should make a trip to their local farm shop to sample some of the brilliant produce offered in Sussex and you can visit Sussexfoodanddrink.org to see what’s on offer in your area.
Note to Editors:
Sussex is now a leader in the world for its sparkling wines and also makes high quality still wines at award-winning wineries across the county, from the wine estates of Oxney, Rathfinny, Ridgeview, Bluebell Vineyard, Fox & Fox and Carr Taylor in East Sussex, to Nyetimber, Bolney, Albourne, Nutbourne, Stopham, Ashling and Tinwood in West Sussex. Right now the grape harvest is about to come in and the teams are on alert for a really good year, but you can still visit many of them for tasting tours and experiences.
The harvest is here for all farmers now and Britain is enjoying a record hay haul this year, after some difficult drought years, so this will help keep animal feed stocks and quality up for the county’s high welfare meat farmers, creating superb Sussex beef, lamb, pork and poultry.
Sussex is well known for its unique and quirky artisan manufactured products, from cheese makers, including High Weald Dairy, The Traditional Cheese Dairy, Goodwood Farm, Harrison & Bookham and more, who create everything from soft blue cheese to parmesan-style hard cheese and award-winning rarities of every kind in between, using cow, sheep and goat milk.
The county is also proud of its baking with superb bakeries creating artisan bread, cakes and pies that melt in the most fastidious of mouths, from Real Patisseries in Brighton & Hove, to Artisan Bakehouse in Steyning and this year’s Sussex Food Producer of the Year, Jenger’s Bakery in Billingshurst.