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Best of the Best RAS President's Medal

The president’s medal is a unique prize honouring the very best in Australian food and beverage production.

When John Fairley steps into the milking yard of his iconic artisan dairy at Picton, south-west of Sydney, the motley assortment of Jersey, Friesian and Swiss Red cows congregating in the early morning mist barely respond. Their udders are huge and distended, yet the cows are perfectly at ease, trustful, and content with the calm, persistent rhythm of the farm. He walks deliberately, purposefully, and with a composure that silently echoes off the hillsides. John doesn’t farm this land, he exists within it.

A seventh-generation dairyman, John has a connection to land that is about as profound as it can be. He loves this country, and the cattle, and the milk they produce together. It’s a deep and abiding affection that underscores the quality of his remarkable milk. And the milk is truly remarkable. It’s rich and creamy, with a distinctly grassy note, the season’s sweet clover obvious on the nose. This is quite unlike large-scale commercial milk, for its flavour is infused with the terroir of Picton.

EXCELLENCE AND IMPROVEMENT

In 2008, John and his team from Country Valley Milk were awarded the President’s Medal, Australia’s highest honour for food and beverage producers. It is an accolade that recognises not only brilliant produce, but also the extraordinary people, businesses, systems and measures of environmental management and community engagement that must underpin all great agriculture and production. Food and beverage is not simply about what we bring to the table, it’s about our place in society, now and into the future, and a relationship with the environment and our communities. A broad proposition, it must be careful, respectful and manageable.

To that end, the President’s Medal is unique as it not only recognises excellence, but actively encourages improvement in all areas, for the winners and their competitors. This award is about ensuring Australia will have even better food and beverages, embodying the highest levels of product integrity.

Established in 2006, the Medal is managed by the Royal Agricultural Society of NSW. Open to farmers, producers and manufacturers from all over Australia, it is the distillation of the year-round competitions in Fine Food, Dairy Produce, Wine, Beer & Cider, and Chocolate. Overall champions from each division are pitted against one another in a triple-bottom- line analysis to find the very best of the best. This involves a rigorous examination of business plans, operational practices, community engagement and environmental management systems, global strategy and market acceptance.

WINNING BENEFITS

Many past winners are household names in fine dining – Tathra Oysters, Holy Goat Cheese, Milly Hill Lamb – while others are global brands like Bulla, Yalumba and Hardy’s. The President’s Medal reveals small manufacturers who think globally, and industrial players with the heart of an artisan.

Benefits for all those involved are diverse. The process compels them to engage in new and productive ways with the challenges specific to their business, to find answers to stubborn questions, and to seek out new ways of marketing themselves. In addition, all competitors are exposed to a range of quality advice from industry professionals, chefs and retail experts about improvements they might consider, or ways to differentiate and grow. This is an invaluable consultation usually out of the reach and budget of most artisans.

EYES ON THE PRIZE

Then there’s the prize itself. A cash reward is provided by the RAS, along with a marketing package from one of Australia’s leading minds, Michael McQueen, and help with story production from Jason van Genderen, one of the world’s best film producers and filmmakers. This award is not simply about recognition, it’s engineered to help our very best produce companies grow, thrive and excel.

There’s a great deal Australians can be proud of when it comes to our food and beverage industries. Diversity, innovation, resilience and excellence are all common values. Consequently, judging the President’s Medal is a daunting task, not simply because the entrants are from such diverse businesses, but because the economic, social and environmental standards are so high. But they will be judged, and a winner will be chosen.

A DELICIOUS CELEBRATION

To celebrate those achievements, the RAS is hosting The President’s Medal Awards Night in November, where a bespoke menu will be crafted by one of Australia’s most celebrated chefs, Christine Manfield in conjunction with Sydney Showground’s Tim Browne, using all the champion ingredients from this year’s competitors. It promises to be a delicious evening to which everyone is invited. Tickets will be available through www.rasnsw.com.au/presidents_medal. If you love great food, and want to taste Australia’s finest, this is an evening not to be missed.

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