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The Aurora International Taste Challenge 2021 – Tributes from specialist judges

The third annual Aurora International Taste Challenge took place at the end of September 2021 near Stellenbosch, South Africa, to celebrate and pay tribute to universal food quality. This event recognises and award food product excellence while helping consumers purchase award-winning, professionally rated products with confidence. An award is not only a great marketing tool to ensure traction in distribution, wholesale, and retail, but adds subjects and bragging rights to social media posts and articles.

Awarded products can utilise award artwork on the product, as well as in printed and electronic media. Many consumers are brand loyal but will pick another product if it is higher rated. Unbiased assessment and the subsequent award are still the best and most cost-effective ways to assure that a product will be noticed, and make it stand out among its competitors.

Celia Gilloway was the convener of the judges and invited some of the best food industry professionals to sit on the panel of adjudicators. With over 2500 glasses and small tasting containers on hand, the work could begin. It is no small task to find the best, as each product was assessed using product-specific criteria, including appearance, smell, taste, mouthfeel, and aftertaste.

The entries for 2021 were more than double that of 2020 which shows both how the stature of the event has grown, and that even in tough times there is a definite need for products to be independently evaluated and awarded.

Neil Tabraham evaluating some drinks

Awarded products can utilise award artwork on the product, as well as in printed and electronic media. Many consumers are brand loyal, but will pick another product if it is higher rated. Unbiased assessment and the subsequent award are still the best and most cost-effective ways to assure that a product will be noticed and make it stand out among its competitors.

Celia Gilloway was the convener of the judges and invited some of the best food industry professionals to sit on the panel of adjudicators. With over 2500 glasses and tasting containers on hand, the work could begin. It is no small task to find the best, as each product was assessed using product-specific criteria, including appearance, smell, taste, mouthfeel, and aftertaste.

The entries for 2021 were more than double that of 2020. This growth shows how the stature of the event has grown. Even in tough times, there is a definite need for products to be independently evaluated and awarded.

Some of the highlights

In an age where the focus is increasingly on health, consumers are more aware of their drink choice. The move is away from high-calorie drinks, and consumers want to know products consist of natural plant-based ingredients of known origin. Not only should ingredients be natural, but preferably tie in with an active lifestyle and contain vitamins or minerals as part of a balanced diet.

The trend is to pay a higher price for high-quality products, which should also incorporate short transport routes, sustainable practices, seasonal fruit, and plastic reduction. Ethically correct and simple production with a high level of transparency is important.

Here are some of the awards received:

Drinks Awards

Most of the soft drinks were less sweet than usual, with natural flavours. The mixers displayed the same tendency as soft drinks with some elegant and well-balanced flavours.

The ever-growing kombucha class was again diverse in flavours and style. The balance of natural flavours in most of the kombuchas was evident. The range of flavours was overwhelming, but the Buchu and pomegranate types were particular favourites. The kombucha category surprised the judges with its diversity and the possibility of food pairing that these drinks hold.Energy drinks were also well represented, for a class of drinks not often associated with good taste. The energy drinks were surprisingly good, showing that consumers are being kept in mind, with innovative flavouring techniques.

This year there was special emphasis on beer, and beers from around the world were entered. The styles were diverse but very pleasing to the judges. The judges loved the range of beers presented and the array of stylistic differences. The quality was outstanding, and judges had difficulty finding clear favourites.

Kerrylea Alborough evaluating some drinks.

Olives and Olive Oil Awards

World olive production decreased for the third consecutive year, and subsequently, EVOO prices nudged higher worldwide.

This was the second year olive oil and olives were adjudicated at The Aurora International Taste Challenge.

The olive oils entered were diverse, and various styles were on offer. In general, the oils had sensational flavours and aromas that were well balanced, harmonious, with good mouthfeel and fresh persistent taste. The more intense oils were full-bodied with a rich earthy mouthfeel, while some were very peppery. The more robust oils had even more of a peppery punch with lively fruit notes. The moderate examples were buttery elegant, while some others displayed herbal flavours. A few entries were very mild and delicate, but showing surprising complexity.

The flavoured oils represented a vast spectrum of tastes. Some of the flavours were so fresh it was almost as if the flavour was added at the table. There were some chilli and lemon flavoured oils that were standouts.

The olives were diverse in style, but most showed good quality and pure flavours. There was a range of colours, sizes, and flavours. The olives generally had good texture and quality.

Coffee Awards

The essence of this event is to guide consumers from a consumer’s point of view. Therefore products are evaluated in an environment, and circumstances, similar to what consumers would have experienced at home, or in a coffee shop. The professional baristas from The Truth Coffee Academy (https://academy.truth.coffee/) took great care in brewing every coffee in a reproducible way, churning out cups with precision for all the samples. Pre-ground coffee and coffee prepared from whole beans were entered and were evaluated in different categories as black coffee, and with dairy and milk alternatives.

Jean-Vincent Ridon tasting coffee
Truth Coffee Academy preparing the Coffee

The coffees ranged wildly in style and origin. “This year’s submissions improved noticeably compared to last year. Some of the best entrants are juicier, brighter, more complex, and tastier overall. I suspect this is likely due to an increased educational approach on a roasting level.” according to Q grader Mike Mc Donald.

Jono Le Feuvre noted: “The value of whole beans is obvious in the cup. Aromatics are more distinct and complex”. He also urged coffee roasters to do their utmost to source “current crop” green coffee.

The entries ranged from the very nutty and smoky examples to the more flowery and herby coffees.  Some of the dark roasted coffee showed excessive bitterness.

There were some very complex and aromatic blended coffees, while many of the single-origin coffees performed well. Of the single-origin coffees, the Ethiopian, Columbian, and Thailand coffees did very well.

Mike McDonald tasting Coffee.

Sausage, dried and cured meat Awards

Sausages, patties, bacon, dried and cured meat from all over the world were adjudicated, and the quality and diversity were evident. The uncooked meats were prepared by representatives of the Institute of Culinary Arts (www.icachef.co.za). ICA treated the meat products with respect and adjusted cooking times and methods to do justice to every product.

The cured meat categories were diverse and included some world-class products. Some were very complex with nutty flavours and lots of umami. The salami, in particular, showed well, with producers across the world showing off their expertise, while the Waygu beef examples, in particular, also did well. Chorizo also proved that it was a class to be reckoned with, with some prime examples. Products that stood out were the Cacciatoro, pepper ham, and Felino salami.

This year the humble liverwurst and Paté made their appearance as a class, and it was well represented by excellent and diverse examples.

The different kinds of bacon entered also ranged in quality and style, with the best showing real class and balance. The smoked examples were packed with flavour. The curing of the bacon and the amount of salt used differentiated entries.

South Africa is the home of droë wors and biltong, and the entries in this category consisted of varying quality products. The best examples had the correct moisture content, as well as balanced use of spice and salt.

In the uncooked sausage category, the entries varied. The local “boerewors” shined once again this year, with some very traditional and well-made examples. It seems that there is a conscious move towards a balance of flavour, as opposed to the dominance of one spice. In particular, one Russian cheese griller stood out. The level of workmanship was high overall.

Patties varied a lot in quality. The best examples made use of good quality meat and had the optimum amount of fat. The judicial use of spices had a significant influence on the end product.

Both big and artisanal producers had high-end entries. The panellists were impressed by the number and quality at the tasting.

Dairy Awards

This was the first year that dairy products were adjudicated at The Aurora International Tastes Challenge. Entrants ranged from very artisanal and small to big producers. 

Table butter and cultured cream butter:

Most of the products entered displayed a pleasantly clean, sweet, and mild flavour with a delicate aroma.

Yoghurt and Kefir:

Yoghurt entries ranged from drinking yoghurt, low fat to double cream yoghurt. Greek yoghurt is currently a growing sector in the dairy industry. The panel evaluated some excellent examples. Most of the yoghurt entries were flavoured, and most of them scored very well. The double cream yoghurt was a standout.

The kefir class surprised, with some very good, flavoured examples. The judges agreed that this class should be better represented, and consumers should be educated about the quality and diversity of kefir.

Fresh unripened cheeses:

Most of the Cottage Cheese tasted had pleasant, fresh, delicate flavours, and no off flavours or odours were detected. The Cream Cheeses entered were varied in fat percentage, styles as well as flavours added.

Feta:

The array of entries had different textures, mouth-feel, and salt content. Some of the entries were flavoured, and the best examples scored very well.

Cream Cheese

The Cream cheeses were mostly unflavoured and ranged from medium to full fat. In all, the texture and spreadability were superb, with pure flavours. The flavoured cream cheeses were expertly manufactured, with natural flavours that rang true.

Cottage Cheese

With this category the flavoured variety dominated, but again natural, balanced flavours were the order of the day. There seemed to have been great strides made to please the consumer.

Camembert and Brie:

The entries submitted were in different stages of maturity. Most of them had creamy, buttery tastes. In some cases, earthy and nutty tones dominated, and others were more fruity or grassy.

Cheddar cheese:

There were several entries in this category. Cheddar is a tough category to judge. With mild Cheddar, the differences between the products were not significant because most of them were not aged. The primary factor was the quality of the milk used, as well as the workmanship of the cheesemaker.

Hard cheese:

There were excellent entries in this category. The best examples had nutty flavours and nice complexity.

Dairy dessert:

This category showed how innovative producers are, and the feeling was that these products are tailor-made for the consumer.

In general, the dairy category was overwhelming with clever, balanced, technically correct, and consumer-driven products on show. It was an eye-opener to see that the products that consumers take for granted, to be simply acceptable, exceeded expectations.

Condiment and Sauce Awards

The time constraint on people in the modern world has the effect that they have less free time to do home cooking. Because of this, consumers use sauces and condiments as a quick and easy way to make their meals more interesting. Producers made use of this perfect storm to grow this category exponentially.

The Condiment and Sauce entries varied a lot, with Chilli-based sauces having the biggest number of entries per class.

The Chilli sauces varied from mild to very hot, with Habanero and Portuguese-style sauces dominating. Overall these sauces showed a very good balance. Many small producers managed to be very innovative, and consequently, the panellists could get a look into this ever-expanding market. This was a category that really stood out to the judges.

Vinegar was a surprisingly big class, ranging from wine to balsamic vinegar and reduction. The balsamic vinegar was rich and complex, with flavours ranging from cherry, chocolate, and berry to figs.

Some individual specialized sauces stood out, while some of the meat sauces disappointed.

Final conclusions

Consumers tend to perceive products as generic, and people think that quality should not vary much. Nothing can be further from the truth. The value of the professionally evaluated products can open a whole new world to consumers. Awarded products help the consumer to make better-informed decisions. An award is a tool for producers, wholesalers, distributors alike.

2021 Judges

Benedetta Lami – Olive Oil expert
Georgio Meletiou - Somellier
Hilde-Lee Olivier - Sous Chef
Kerrylea Alborough - Winemaker and Viticulturist
Linda du Toit - Food technologist
Neil Tabraham - Somellier
Craig Cormack - Chef
Enid Henrichsen - Consumer Scientist
Jean-Vincent Ridon - Somellier
Jono Le Feuvre - Wine and Coffee Journalist
Kirstein Buckle - Sous Chef
Marzanjah Ackerman - Food technologist
Mike McDonald - Coffee expert
Warren Machanik - Coffee Expert

 

We would like to thank companies who entered,  the staff who made this event possible and our partners:

  • Aqua Panna
  • Canals
  • Crystal Direct
  • Equipment cafe
  • Freddy Hirsch Group
  • Truth Coffee Academy
  • Hario
  • Hendrick’s
  • Institute of Culinary Art (ICA)
  • Mahlkönig
  • Polyoak
  • RX Olive Oil
  • Seven Oaks Trading
  • Theron du Plessis Chartered Accountants
  • Toyota

The dates for The Aurora International Taste Challenge 2022 will be announced in February 2022.      

For any enquiry, visit www.aurorachallenge.com, or email hello@aurorachallenge.com