Charleston and Church won the grand prize in the University of Georgia’s 2020 Flavor of Georgia Food Product Contest for its savory Cheddar Rounds snacks.
Warren and Jen Simmons, owners of the Atlanta company, developed the product in 2016 from a handwritten recipe by his grandmother, who was an avid hostess of friends and family at her home in Charleston, South Carolina. The couple topped the savory snack food with Georgia pecans to complete a “deliciously Southern” treat, as the package reads.
The couple were among 30 finalists who gave virtual product pitches from their businesses and home kitchens to a panel of socially distant judges who sampled submitted products in Athens on Oct. 27. The final round of judging was postponed from the original judging and awards date of April 7.
A signature event for UGA’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Flavor of Georgia has launched many market-ready and established products into success, often garnering increased sales and publicity for businesses.
“Contestants represent the intersection of culinary skill and entrepreneurial spirit. Both ingredients are essential to bring a new food product into the marketplace and for the overall viability of the business,” said CAES Interim Dean Joe West during the virtual awards celebration.
Entries are judged on technical aspects such as flavor, texture and ingredient profile. The judge also consider consumer appeal including packaging, innovation or uniqueness, and how well the product represents the state of Georgia.
The winners by category, product name, company and city are listed below.
- Barbecue Sauces: Strawberry Balsamic and Rosemary Barbecue Sauce, Aubs Company, Decatur
- Beverages: Georgia Grey Black Tea, Thistle & Sprig Tea Company, Atlanta
- Condiments and Salsas: Georgia Peach Balsamic Vinegar, A&A Alta Cucina Italia, Johns Creek
- Confections: Georgia Fried Peanut Cluster – Vanilla, Georgia Fried Peanut Company, Edison
- Honey and Related Products: Wildflower Honey, White Oak Pastures, Bluffton
- Jams and Jellies: Apple Fig Pepper Jelly, Wisham Jellies, Tifton
- Meats and Seafood: 920 Pork Sausage, 920 Cattle & Co., Millen
- Miscellaneous: Lemon Cream Cheese, Bootleg Farm, Springfield
- Sauces and Seasonings: You Saucy Thing Soy Ginger Vidalia, Chinese Southern Belle, Smyrna
- Snack Foods: Cheddar Rounds, Charleston and Church, Atlanta
The winners and finalists include a mix of new and returning contestants, who often come back to compete with different products or flavors. A&A Alta Cucina Italia won the grand prize and salsas, chutneys and condiments category in 2015 with Balsamico Al Mirtillo (blueberry balsamic vinegar). This is the second year winning for the Georgia Fried Peanut Company in confections — their chocolate flavor won in 2017. Bootleg Farm’s feta cheese was a finalist in 2018. White Oak Pastures began entering the contest in 2008 and was a finalist in 2016 with chorizo sausage and again in 2018 with grass-fed beecon grind; their organic pepper jelly and spicy pork snack stick were also finalists this year. Chinese Southern Belle’s My Sweet Hottie (Mild) Homestyle Sweet & Sour Sauce won the sauces category in 2013 and the Wild Wild East Asian BBQ Teriyaki Pineapple was a finalist in barbecue sauces last year. Wisham Jellies won jams and jellies previously with the Wild Mayhaw Pepper Jelly in 2016 and the people’s choice award in 2015 for its Cranberry Pepper Jelly. Aubs Company took home the people’s choice award in 2019 with its signature AubSauce barbecue sauce.
All winners and finalists earn the right to have their products stamped with the Flavor of Georgia logo and the signature contest apron.
Since 2007, more than 1,600 products have been submitted to Flavor of Georgia. A total of 117 products were entered this year, all of which are featured in the annual directory on the contest website.
“The phrase ‘culinary delights’ takes on a whole new depth this year,” said contest coordinator Sharon P. Kane, an agricultural economist for the college. “Many people turned to food and drink for nourishment and comfort this year, and it’s more important than ever that we support these local businesses.”
Food and drink manufacturing businesses represent nearly 10% of employment in Georgia’s agricultural system and is the largest manufacturing sector in the state for employment, sales and value-added products, according to Kane's research.
The contest is supported by sponsorships from the Georgia Agribusiness Council and the Georgia Department of Agriculture and its Georgia Grown marketing program, to which finalists receive a one-year membership.