Now in their 14th year, the awards celebrate the very best produce from the Trust’s 1,500 tenant farmers and estates, who between them look after more than 500,000 acres of farmland in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. As well as being judged for taste, products are assessed against a range of environmental standards to guarantee their quality and origin.
“Our Fine Farm Produce Awards have attracted a fantastic range of products this year,” said Rob Macklin, the National Trust’s Head of Soils and Farming, “From beef and hogget to apple juice and organic vegetables, this year’s award-winners show that sustainably produced food and drink is not only better for nature, it tastes better too.
“We’ve once again made the special ‘Farming with Nature’ award to recognise a producer who has gone to significant lengths to improve wildlife habitats on their land.”
Neil Heseltine, a fourth-generation farmer at Hill Top Farm in Malham, in the Yorkshire Dales, was presented with the prestigious Farming with Nature award by Charlotte Smith, presenter on BBC Radio 4’s Farming Today, in the National Trust Cookery Theatre at the Countryfile Live event today (2 August).
Neil and his partner Leigh embrace sustainable ways of farming to enhance and protect their landscape, which encompasses two Sites of Special Scientific Interest, and actively promote nature-friendly practices within the wider farming community. Their holistic grazing regime involving Belted Galloway cattle keeps down scrub and allows native species of plant to thrive, including moor grass and wild thyme, while their restoration of a traditional hay meadow has further increased biodiversity on the land.
Neil Heseltine said: “Looking after the environment is central to what we do at Hill Top. Several years ago we reduced the number of sheep on the farm and introduced conservation grazing cattle to increase biodiversity – with really positive results. New species of plant have emerged in the fields and our hay meadows are full of invertebrates, butterflies, bees, and even a family of barn owls.
“It’s an honour to be recognised in the Fine Farm Produce Awards. It’s so important that we celebrate healthy, sustainable, nutritious produce and champion farming practices that work hand in hand with nature.”
Winner of the Overall Food Award was Beningbrough Farm, near York, for its Aberdeen Angus beef, a breed that has long been regarded as one of the best in the world. Sold through their farm shop and at the local market, this meat has a sweet aroma and rich creamy flavour which impressed the food judges and received the highest food score overall.
Farmer Alistair Jackson puts the quality of his beef down to the fact that the cattle are born and bred on the farm: “Much of our land is alongside the River Ouse flood plain where silt deposits create a very mineral-rich soil, which is excellent for grazing.
“We also butcher our beef locally and then hang it for 21 days to enhance the flavour, before it goes on sale in our shop. We now have a herd of 300 cattle on 340 acres, all farmed to RSPCA assured welfare standards – something we are very proud of and often interests our customers.”
The winner of the Overall Drinks Award for its Traditional Craft Cider was Barrington Court, a Tudor estate near Ilminster with orchards that date back to the 19th century.
Its medium dry cider was given the overall title amid strong competition from other cider and apple juice producers, gaining the highest overall score. Made using a 200-year old cider press, the drink is amber coloured and slightly cloudy in appearance, with fine bubbles. It scored well for its honeycomb scent and characterful smoky caramel taste, which left an aftertaste of butterscotch.
Barrington Court’s ten acres of orchards are home to 140 types of apple, including ancient heritage varieties and fruit trees planted by Ian Lyle, whose family firm became Tate & Lyle, in the 1940s. Tom Putt, Beauty of Bath and Kingsdon Black are just three of the unusually-named varieties grown.
The successful apple and cider project is overseen by ‘pommelier’ Rachel Brewer and created with the help of passionate locals, staff and volunteers.
South Somerset Lead Ranger Mark Musgrove said: “Producing an award-winning cider takes a whole team of people – from our rangers who manage the traditional orchards and gardeners who tend the trees in formal areas, to our staff who organise events for the public and sell the products, and our brilliant volunteers who help plant, harvest and press the apples.”
The orchards are important too for wildlife, providing a habitat for species including mistle thrush, noble chafer beetle and pyramidal orchid.
A special mention was given to Warren Farm on the Brockhampton Estate in Herefordshire for its damson vinegar, which the judges described as the best new product.
A previous winner for their cold-pressed rapeseed oil, farmers James and Victoria Hawkins and their four sons make the vinegar to an old family recipe, using damsons collected from their hedgerows and orchards. The judges commended the fruit vinegar’s versatility, saying that it would work as both a dipping sauce and as part of a dessert.
In total 19 producers were recognised for 34 fantastic food, drink and countryside products, ranging from heritage tweed and organic vegetable boxes to venison, hogget and clotted cream. The produce was judged by a panel of seven food and drink experts, including Clive Goudercourt, the National Trust’s development chef.
For more information about the awards and or find out more about this year’s award winning products and producers, visit https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/features/fine-farm-produce-awards
A full list of this year’s winners follows below:
London and South East
F. Conisbee & Son, Surrey – Steak and Shere Drop Ale Pie, Rolled Shoulder of Lamb, Rolled Turkey Breast
East of England
Hatfield Forest, Essex – Venison Tender Loin Steaks, Venison Haunch Steaks
Warren Farm, Herefordshire – Herefordshire Cold Pressed Rapeseed Oil, Herefordshire Damson Vinegar (SPECIAL MENTION: BEST NEW PRODUCT)
Belton House, Lincolnshire – Venison
Calke Abbey, Derbyshire – Portland Hogget
Standley’s Barn Butchery, Derby – Longhorn Beef Rump Steak
Beningbrough Home Farm, York – Aberdeen Angus (OVERALL FOOD WINNER)
Hill Top Farm, Malham – Belted Galloway Beef Rump Steak, Beltie Bresola Wildman Charcuterie (OVERALL FARMING WITH NATURE WINNER)
Dunham Massey Apple Juice and Cider – Organic Apple Juice, Organic Dunham Vinegar
South Somerset Apple Juice and Cider Project at Barrington Court, Somerset – Barrington Court Cider (OVERALL DRINKS WINNER)
Burrow Farm, Exeter – Red Ruby Devon Beef Rump Steak
Clyston Mill, Exeter – Wholemeal Stoneground Flour
Coleshill Organics, Swindon – Small Organic Veg Box
Conygree Farm, Cheltenham – Cotswold Hogget Shoulder, Cotswold Mutton Leg
Handmade Exmoor, Minehead – Exmoor Heritage Wool, Exmoor Tweed
Killerton Estate, Devon – Sparkling Cider, Apple Juice, Still Medium Dry Cider
Martinsfield Farm Enterprise LLP, Exeter – Lamb Half Leg Joint
The Free Range Dairy, Carvannal Farm, Cornwall – Clotted Cream, Natural Yoghurt, Milk
Snowdonia Shepherdess Lamb, Nant Gwynant – Half Box Lamb, Deluxe Lamb Burger