Call it the Oscars of pickles. A new food contest called the Good Food Awards is going to be handing out 80 awards to the best-tasting sustainably produced food products from around the country in January. The categories are jam, pickles, coffee, chocolate, beer, charcuterie, and cheese. From now until September 15, products can be entered via the awards’ website for a $10 processing fee. A blind-tasting panel will select the winners, to be announced at an awards ceremony and public marketplace event in San Francisco.

The event is being put together by San Francisco–based Seedling Projects, a spin-off group from the Slow Food Nation event two years ago. Winners will receive a seal they can display on their product, as well as extras to hand out to businesses or individuals they feel also deserve credit—a winning strawberry jam maker might give a Good Food Award seal to the farmer who grew the strawberries and the grocery store that first carried the jam.

Although the entrants’ samples will be judged solely on taste, to win, their products must be “authentic and responsibly produced,” says Good Food Awards Director Sarah Weiner. (Each category has its own detailed explanation of what that means; for instance, in the cheese category, the milk must be from cows that did not graze on genetically modified crops.)

The awards are coming at a good time, with interest in small food businesses growing fast. In the last few years, there has not only been an increase in people toying with their own start-ups, but also outlets for what they are making, from the small food markets and festivals like the Brooklyn Flea and the San Francisco Underground Farmers Market to web retailers like Foodzie (which is a sponsor of the Good Food Awards) coming onto the scene.

Although there aren’t any size restrictions on the producers that can enter (meaning Kraft could technically enter if it had a product that met the criteria for its category), the Good Food Awards were created with smaller producers in mind. In fact, Weiner says, there’s nothing in the application that says you even have to be a commercially viable business: Except for the charcuterie category, which requires that you work out of a state- or county-inspected facility, there is no stipulation that you have a business license, proof of insurance, or a setup in a commercial kitchen. Good news for hobbyists who haven’t yet bitten the bullet and gone commercial.

“Conceptually I don’t have any problem with someone like that winning,” says Weiner. “It could be helpful to people like that, because we’re trying to support people who want to grow their business, and we could help connect those folks.”’

And exposure is a big benefit of the awards. The blind-tasting panel will include a handful of big names, including Chef Paul Bertolli, former Gourmet editor in chief Ruth Reichl, chocolate makers Michael Recchiuti and John Scharffenberger, and cookbook writer Alice Medrich. The public will also get to try the winners’ products at the San Francisco Ferry Building prior to the award ceremony.

Photo by Aya Brackett

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