Slowly but surely

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Borough Market and its traders have enjoyed success in this year’s Slow Food Awards. Shane Holland, chair of Slow Food UK, explains why

Words: Ellie Costigan

‘Slow’ can be a positive or negative quality, depending on context. Someone walking at snail’s pace in front of you on their phone: definitely a negative. But when it comes to food—be it the laid-back enjoyment of it, the careful creation of a product, or a low and leisurely cooking method—slowness is undoubtedly good.

Slow Food encapsulates all of this goodness, celebrating and supporting producers and retailers that take the time to do things the ‘right’ way, with dedication and care. As a movement, it links the pleasure of eating with a commitment to ensuring high standards of welfare—both for animals and people—and produce, while respecting the environment. These are values that chime with those of the Market, which is perhaps why Borough and many of its traders have once again won big in this year’s Slow Food Awards.

“The thing that makes Borough special is, it’s a values-led market,” says Shane Holland, chair of Slow Food UK. “It makes an ethical statement, and that shines through in all the producers it has here; it trickles through to the food it has here.” Naming Borough Market the UK’s best market, however, was not the decision of Shane or anybody at Slow Food itself. It was the public’s choice. And competition was tough.

Biggest and most exciting
While the last four years’ awards focused solely on London and the south-east, this year they were expanded UK-wide. As well as a category winner for each nation—England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland—an overall UK category winner was also crowned. “Because we have expanded, the race, this year was much tighter,” Shane explains. “There are other great values-led markets in the UK, but Borough is by far the biggest and most exciting. It is more famous, which does come into it—but rightfully so.”

According to Shane, all of the award-winners have two key attributes: passion and values. “The producers themselves are incredibly passionate about their production and how they make the food; the retailers are incredibly passionate about their sourcing—and values run through everything they do. Values connect both the producer and the retailers: taking the time, really thinking about those values and why they’re making those commitments to the countryside, the environment, the flavour.”

While outstanding individual products should and do garner recognition, the Slow Food Awards also make a point of celebrating the people who create them. “Sadly, we’re seeing the death of the high street and smaller retailers—and if we only have a very narrow range of retailers, we’re only going to see a narrow range of foods. By supporting smaller and specialist retailers from across the country, we’re much more likely to see exciting products—and that’s got to be a good thing,” Shane continues. “We do recognise star products, but without producers there are no products. Without retailers, they disappear.”

Quality and provenance
The specialist retailers recognised this year by Slow Food include Borough Market’s Bianca Mora, which was named best cheesemonger in both England and the UK (the former for the third year in a row). The stall’s fine Italian cheeses, charcuterie and vinegars are sourced with utmost attention to quality and provenance. “The principles of Slow Food are the same as ours as a business: quality, meaning flavoursome, healthy food; cleanliness, in the form of production that does not harm the environment; fairness, as in products that are offered at accessible prices for consumers, but also with fair conditions and pay for workers,” says Ewa, Bianca Mora’s manager. “We are always looking for small, organic, artisan suppliers who make their products as they would have been made years ago. The fact that we have seen success again in this year’s awards must mean we are doing a good job. It is great that our customers appreciate that.”

Other Borough Market traders also saw success: Lord Newborough of Rhug Estate was named Wales’s person of the year; Sussex Fish topped the list of England’s best fishmonger; and Bread Ahead was crowned England’s best baker for the third year running, while also bagging the accolade of overall UK category winner. “We’re thrilled to have won. It’s even bigger for us now the awards have been expanded,” says owner Matt. “It’s a really important movement and exactly the circle we want to be in. Slow Food appreciates the slow, natural approach—and that’s what we’re all about.”