Thin slivers of dry-cured ham passed the ultimate taste test, earning its creator a grand prize of $10,000 at the Great Manitoba Food Fight April 18.
Clinton Cavers used recipes borrowed from his Italian friends to create the gold-medal-winning ‘old world recipe’ prosciutto, made from pork raised outdoors and processed in a meat shop on their Pilot Mound farm.
Four years ago, the Cavers, who also raise and direct sell grass-fed beef, lamb and poultry, began experimenting to create various kinds of charcuterie products.
Around that time they also struck up conversations with their pork-buying customers in Winnipeg. It’s their advice that helped them perfect their product, says Clinton.
“We are friends with a lot of Italians,” he said, adding that these customers were so enamoured with the taste of their pork and how it was raised, they entrusted them with their family recipes.
Their GMFF prize is a package of services they can use for more shelf life testing and product development, Clinton said. They plan to produce their prosciutto under a private label for a specialty food store in Manitoba.
Other rural contenders at the GMFF cleaned up the rest of the prizes.
A silver award of $6,000 went to St. Adolphe-based Bessie Hatzitrifonos for her ‘Bessies’ Best’ tzatziki sauce, one of the all-natural dairy and gluten-free Mediterranean dips and sauces she sells in specialty stores in Winnipeg and the St. Norbert Farmers’ Market.
The $3,000 bronze award was made to Glenda Hart of Grand Marais. Hart and her husband Rory, owners of Canadian Birch Co., have developed golden amber birch syrup. The one-of-a-kind product is also sold at specialty stores in Winnipeg.
A fourth non-monetary ‘tasters choice,’ or people’s choice award, went to Wesley Riedstra of Carman. Just 19 years old, Riedstra is the youngest participant ever in the food fight, bringing to the 2013 competition a sweet cinnamon bread that was a favourite among his late-grandfather’s recipes.
“It’s a tribute to him for me to be standing here today and I take it as an honour to be representing his loaf right now,” said Riedstra, who works with his parents at Carman Bakery and plans to take over the family business one day.
Ten food product developers are selected each year to compete based on scores received for a business plan they submit as part of contest requirements. Eligible products must be innovative and made-in-Manitoba food products on a path toward commercialization.
“The GMFF is Manitoba’s version of ‘Dragons’ Den,’” said Lynda Lowry, chief operating officer at Food Development Centre in Portage la Prairie staffed with the expertise to develop and commercialize food products.
“Entrepreneurs are pitching their new product idea to a group of very discerning judges in their quest to win prizes.”
“Every product on store shelves today started off as an idea,” added Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives Minister Ron Kostyshyn, who congratulated all the particpants in the competition and called the food fight an event of Manitoba’s ever-expanding food-processing potential.
This year’s GMFF also added in a one-day workshop to learn how to effectively communicate with decision makers in the grocery and food-service industries.
Judging the competition for the first time, University of Manitoba professor of food science, Martin Scanlon said in addition to the product lineup, he was impressed with many of the competitors’ grasp of key aspects of business they’re entering.
“Because there’s a lot more to this than just having that passion,” said Scanlon. “You do have to start asking yourself the hard questions… like, ‘is this something we can scale up?’ or, ‘what might impede sales and marketing?’ It’s that ability to be critical to yourself about the recipe.”
Chair of the GMFF and MAFRI business development specialist Kathy Sawchuk said she was really pleased with the diversity of products seen this year. Even the tough questions from judges provided an opportunity for competitors to learn.
The GMFF also provides a networking opportunity for these up-and-coming food entrepreneurs with key people in retail, distribution and food service, she added.
“I know they’ve gone home with lots of contacts,” she said.