Running a café in Cumbria in 2001 was nobody’s idea of fun. FMD was in the process of ravaging the countryside as well as its inhabitants. Carcasses burned in their thousands, and rural businesses faced one of the most challenging times of their history.

But many bounced back, albeit in some different form, and this is exactly what Mark and Maria Whitehead did. They are now a force to be reckoned with, should you be competing against them in a category in the Great Taste Awards.

Named Speciality Producer of the year 2005 only this week, the awards they keep collecting are a testament to the hard work, determination and creativity which they apply to keep their small company growing, and producing some of the finest products in their field.

When FMD hit Mark and Maria lost 60% of their trade, and were forced to close the café and think again about what they could do that would work. ‘We decided that if the people weren’t going to come to us, we would go to the people,’ Mark explains.

They started producing the relishes, pickles and preserves they had made at home for the café on a larger scale, from home, and started talking to local delicatessens and garden centres whether they would stock the products and they have been growing ever since.

The couple now employ eleven people, and make over 100 different condiments, from chutneys and relishes to savoury sauces, pickled and preserved fruits, jams, jellies and marmalades, honey and fruit curds, sweet butters and sauces, mustards, flavoured rocks salts & peppercorns, oils and vinegars. Their shop is open daily, and their list of suppliers is continually growing.

‘We have regular orders now from San Francisco and New York,’ Mark proudly says, supplying American wholesalers with some traditional, and some truly original tastes from the Lakes.

One of the most surprising things about this company is the breadth of products their small team manages to produce, and many of the products in themselves are extremely versatile. Take their Hot Toddy: you can dissolve it in water for the traditional cure for a sniffle, or spread it on toast for a snack, or just eat it from the jar.

The same goes for their Sticky Banoffee Sauce, one suggestion Mark makes for this is coating barbecued bananas straight from the heat for a decadent end to a summer evening.

And if the judges at the Great Taste Awards know anything about food, then they have consistently rewarded Hawkshead with gold silver, and bronze awards year after year, and 2005 has been no different.

Their Chillilli, their Fig and Orange Jam, their Apple and Lavender Jelly and their Pink Grapefruit and Ginger Marmalade all won gold this year, not just for innovation, but for good old fashioned taste.

If you aren’t fortunate enough to live near the Lakes, a list of Hawkshead’s suppliers can be found on their website, or you can order direct online. At these extremely good prices for high quality, breakfast, lunch and supper will never be the same again?

For more information on stockists, or to browse the different products, visitwww.hawksheadrelish.com.