Back in April, the Sussex Food and Drink Awards 2021 were announced. In their 15th year, you could be forgiven for having missed this because at the time, of course, we were still grappling with lockdown restrictions and there was no gala dinner for the winners.
But this week, Sussex Food and Drink hosted a “Revival” event at Borde Hill near Haywards Heath. The food and drink gods of Sussex were surely happy with the offering as the September sun shone and award winners and guests enjoyed sumptuous nibbles, locally produced drinks, some great local music and a chance to mingle!
If your tummy is rumbling, there is a list of the winners and finalists below. But as a small but perfectly formed team from SE attended this week’s event, we thought we’d share our highlights. It goes without saying, we’ll also be trying to catch up with some of the attendees in due course to get a few inside stories and some Sussex foodie news.
Gin, glorious gin!
I was delighted to catch up with Paul and Kate from Tom Cat Gin. The last time our paths crossed, I accidentally bought four bottles of their Cloudy Mango! What can I say, it was Christmas and the lovely thing about their mango gin is that it’s not too sweet and easily adapts from a warming winter drink to a cool summer one … not that mine lasted that long. Since I met them last, they’ve released a new blueberry gin, and news from the horse’s mouth is that a cloudy rhubarb gin may be in the pipeline!
And whilst talking of gin, what a delight to meet Jude White from Brighton Gin. Brighton Gin is another local brand packed with personality and their gins are vegan and gluten-free. They deliver some of their gins by way of the gin bike (oh my, I want one of those) and offer distillery tours. Guess where I’m heading soon.
Hear, hear! For our local beer
We probably don’t write enough about local beer at Sussex Exclusive so I was delighted to catch up with the team from Long Man Brewery, winner of the Sussex Drink Producer of the Year. These guys also have an interesting backstory and they are unique in that they grow their own barley as part of farm diversification as well as being passionate about conservation and sustainability. They have a tasting room and run brewery tours and they also work with Exmoor ponies (a childhood passion of mine).
Talking of farmers
You know we love a good farmers market here at SE, and the word on the street is that Forest Row Farmers is going from strength to strength (along with Horsham, Shoreham, and of course, the award winner Lewes Farmers Market). It was also an absolute delight to meet Stacey Ayles from Stacey’s Larder. This new farm shop is a Covid success story having opened during the first lockdown online and having recently opened a store in Forest Row. Better still, the Ayles are a farming family with a small herd and strong views about being environmentally friendly and keeping it local. They run online butchers where you can buy their pasture-raised meat and eggs direct.
For the love of a good pastry
Jengers Craft Bakery in Billingshurst seems to just keep making the headlines, and it’s not surprising really as they ooze personality and always seem to be cooking up something fresh including breads, cakes and savouries. I think I’ve wangled an invite to do some taste testing there so I’ll be heading that way soon but they were of course winners of the Sussex Producer of the Year.
And of course, I couldn’t not mention that Sussex Exclusive won the prize draw of an Afternoon Tea box! Thank you to NFU Mutual Pulborough and Piglets Pantry. Based in Worthing, Piglets Pantry were known for their hand-filled pies, handmade sausage rolls, cakes and biscuits, but like many others, during the pandemic, they had to diversify! Cue Afternoon Tea and wow, what a treat. Home-made scotch eggs, quiche and sausage rolls, followed by scones, cream and jam and cake … lashings of cake!
It was great to see so many local producers bouncing back from lockdown and the pandemic and it’s even better to see their passion and care about what they do. The moral, if any, of this week’s event is that now, more than ever before, we need to get behind our local producers and support them. It tastes better that way and really helps make our county a better place! But for now, please pass the Gaviscon.
The 2021 heroes of Sussex food and drink
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