WHEN you've got so many great food producers based in the Westcountry, trying to single out the best ones is no easy feat.
Every year that difficult job is given to the Taste of the West judges who present gold, bronze and silver awards to deserving recipients for its highly esteemed product awards.
This year more than 1,000 products were entered and of those, 166 won a gold award, 216 a silver award, and 213 a bronze award.
Almost 60 of the gold awards were given to products from Devon, further confirming the county's enviable reputation for high-quality food.
Among the proud winners in the meat category was Partridge Farm Meats in Tiverton, who scooped nine awards in all.
The rare-breed farm is owned by Duncan and Hannah Nobbs who raise and butcher their own meat onsite and deliver nationwide.
Hannah, who attributes great welfare to fabulous flavours, said: "We are so proud to have won nine awards this year for producing meat birth-to-plate. It's the first time we have ever entered anything and it makes all our hard work worthwhile!
"Traceability is key and we know each of our animals individually and make sure they all enjoy a happy and healthy life on the farm.
"We have our own charcuterie so we make delicious sweet or spicy chorizo, we smoke our own bacon and also dry-cure our own bacon too."
Partridge Farm Meats was awarded gold for its grass-fed traditional Aberdeen Angus sirloin steak plus silver for rump and rib-eye steaks, and silver for dry-cured back bacon from pedigree large blacks.
"Large blacks are the original Devon and Cornwall pig and are third on the Rare Breeds Survival Trust watch list," explained Hannah who is passionate about rearing rare breeds. Next year, we'd love to see a new category especially for primary producers like us."
Among the other winners in the meat category was Clinton Venison. It is based at Clinton Devon Estates and the venison is produced from wild deer that are expertly butchered in house to provide a high-quality, great tasting meat.
Adding more awards to its collection is Kenniford Farm Shop in Exeter, awarded a bronze for its belly pork joint.
For the past 17 years the farm has successfully been rearing pigs, the last 11 of which have seen the business branch out into its own range of award-winning pork and bacon products.
The Freemantle family have been rearing livestock for the past four generations the natural way without additives, growth promoters or routine antibiotics.
The farm was set up as a high-welfare pig breeding unit that has allowed the traditional methods to continue with no compromise on the final product.
In the sauces and accompaniments category Exeter-based Hillside Speciality Foods received a gold for its quince fruit cheese.
The business began when Devon chef Jay Allan created a range of fruit pastes for local cheese suppliers Country Cheeses.
They were looking for a local fruit creation to serve with their award-winning cheeses as an alternative to the imported Spanish Dulce de membrillo (quince fruit cheese).
Drawing on his 15 years of experience as a chef, and with reference to the long tradition of British fruit cheese making, Jay developed a range of fruit pastes. He teamed up with brother Will and Hillside Speciality Foods was created.
Further products have been added to the range including relishes, pickles and chutneys and savoury biscuits.
Celebrating a double victory with two golds is Highfield Preserves Ltd in Willand for its apple mint with cider jelly, and mild chilli chutney.
Its jams, chutneys, jellies, mustards and marmalades are made to the finest recipes, using the best ingredients and no artificial additives or preservatives.
Highfield Preserves is known for its love of being innovative and not being afraid to combine flavours to create great new tastes. Taste of the West chief executive John Sheaves said: "We continue to be astounded by the quality of the produce coming out of the Westcountry.
"There is no surprise the region is increasingly being recognised internationally as a key player in terms of food and drink. These awards give the top products the recognition they deserve."
The awards programme has been promoting and supporting the South West food and drink industry for two decades. This year's awards were recently judged at Westpoint, Exeter, by a panel of independent industry experts, including chefs, food writers, food buyers and other food professionals.
The product awards consisted of 25 classes, and the judges' job was to evaluate each product individually, assessing its appearance, aroma, texture, packaging and, most significantly, its taste. Gold, silver and bronze awards were awarded entirely on merit and judges were not limited on the number of awards that could be given.
Products which won gold awards were judged a second time by a further panel of judges to identify the winners of 22 'best of' category awards, including best new product.
Of those top 22 products, one will be declared champion product at an awards ceremony next month. The hospitality and retail awards are also in the process of being announced.
To date there have been eight gold award winners in Devon including Tea and Tittle Tattle in Budleigh Salterton.
The family-run tea shop and restaurant prides itself on its unpretentious homemade food and generous portions.
Customers regularly comment that the scones are the best they have tasted. The menu changes daily but will always include at least one roast, homemade pies, casseroles and salads.
Also a recipient of a gold in the café/tea room category is RAMM Cafe, based at Exeter's Royal Albert Memorial Museum.
For a full list of Taste of the West winners visit www.tasteofthewest.co.uk