When it comes to contemporary food trends, it feels like there has been an ever-widening rift between the health-faddy and the absurdly decadent. For every fried-chicken-topped pizza with a hot-dog-stuffed crust, there's an açai bowl loaded with kale, quinoa, goji berries, and activated charcoal.
So when asked to name the best new food product for this year, you might be a little bit stumped. Will it be genetically modified rice that could resolve world famine, or some esoteric herbal syrup used in $17 cocktails? Will it be an even stringier form of string cheese, or the rendered version of a newly discovered South American fruit that makes your hair grow longer and shinier?
None of the above. The UK's best new food product has been named, and it's fat. Lovely, greasy beef fat.
At the Guild of Fine Food awards that took place in London earlier this week, the beef dripping from James Whelan Butchers took home top honors over roughly 10,000 other entries. (The product also broke the top 50 and was named "an absolute showstopper" in last year's competition.)
But in all fairness, this isn't just a discarded hunk of gristle being carefully repackaged. The dripping, which fifth-generation butcher Pat Whelan describes as a "taste of [his] childhood," is made from suet derived from the butchery's grass-fed Irish Angus and Hereford beef, which is then rendered and clarified into a pure fat. Whelan's own mother helped him to prepare it to the degree of savory richness that he so fondly remembers from his youth.
One member of the judging panel—which was comprised of more than 450 food critics, chefs, and food writers, among others—described the dripping as a "pure distillation of bovine goodness." Many of the judges remarked that the product had a nostalgia factor that they appreciated. Remember the carefree days when we all ate beef cooked in its own fat without worrying about the coronary consequences?
"Over the last few years, with the diet police's crosshairs firmly on refined sugar and carbohydrates instead of saturated fat, our customers are educated and appreciate this classic flavour enhancer," Pat Whelan told the Irish Times. He recommends using it to add flavor to potatoes, or simply spread on some decent bread.
Other high marks went to Baronscourt Estate's Wild Sika Venison French Rack and Kerry Fish's Smoked Irish Organic Salmon, which has glorious "notes of the smokehouse and seaweed on the nose."
But the goal is to please the people. And hey, the people love fat.