FANCY FOOD at Moscone Center, 1/16-19
Fancy Food is the largest showcase of specialty foods in North America, held annually in NYC and SF, and walking through literally thousands of products from around the world (not to mention tasting them) is massively overwhelming and exciting. It’s a place for industry folk to discover and buy new product, and, in my case, share new taste discoveries with you. I’ve narrowed down favorites (believe it or not!)
Olive oils from Oleum Vitae were pretty much the most thrilling discovery. From Spain, they aren’t easy to track down in the US (yet) and you may think we have more than enough fine olive oils locally (we do). But not like this. Flavors only sound trendy: horchata, ginger, chocolate, tomato. Trying buttery, nutty Kenyan Coffee was a revelation. I’ve never tasted anything like it. Nor their ultra-expensive premium oil, Heliodor, with cherry and vanilla flavorings, made of olives from 1,000-year-old trees. I actually like Kenyan Coffee better but the decadence of cherry/vanilla with that so-smooth-you-could-bathe-in-it oil is irresistible. Find a way to try or purchase these oils and you won’t regret it.
- Mother-in-Law’s Kimchi is New York-based Lauryn Chun’s mom’s recipe, created in the 80’s in her mother’s hometown of Garden Grove. This is high quality, tasty kimchi with just the right amount of heat. I can see it really taking off in the Bay Area, as it already has in NY, if NY Times accolades are in any indication.
I’ve had many a gourmet marshmallow, including more delicate pillows made by local chocolatiers. But I had fun with Plush Puffs from Sherman Oaks. Maybe it was the toast-it-yourself stations where I could get that blackened crisp I’m crazy about. Or it could have been the Bacon Marshmallow. Yeah, that did it.
- Mrs. Palmer’s Pantry makes pita chips the way I wish others would. Usually hard, crusty, lacking in flavor, hers are light, airy, crisp, but loaded with taste. From Canada, I only hope I won’t have to struggle to find bags of Cinnamon, Sea Salt, Parmesan & Garlic, BBQ pita chips – all way better than they sound.
- The nice part about Charlie’s Truffled Popcorn from North Carolina’s Susan Rice Truffle Products, is that they shave actual Black Perigord Truffles over popcorn, rather than using truffle oil. The result is a happily overpowering truffle taste.
- Hernan makes an all-natural Mexican chocolate, called Kekua (sold at Dean & Deluca). Light, smooth, frothy, it’s a combo of chocolate, cinnamon, sugar and, in one variety, crushed almonds. But what sticks with me is dusty, addictive Cinnamon Chocolate Balls in a hand-woven basket which can be eaten on their own or crushed to make the drink.
Napa-based Susan Knapp has been on TV with her A Perfect Pear products, like sauces, oils, chutneys, syrups. I took to Tomato Cinnamon Clove Preserves immediately. Savory, sweet and spiced, it covers a wide flavor spectrum.
- Dairy free, organic chocolate? I don’t go for vegan chocolate based on taste alone… and I’ve tried many. Give me the real thing. Sherman Oaks-based Chocoveda, started by Julia Lungin, certified Ayurvedic Practitioner and chocolate-lover, does it better than any vegan chocolates I’ve tried up till now. Peppermint is vibrant and Tangerine refreshing… all truffles coated in rich, dark, dairy-free chocolate.
Russian-style Kusmi Tea (founded in St. Petersburg in 1867) is based in Paris since the Russian Revolution in 1917. They have a teahouse in Paris’ Left Bank, with one soon to open in NYC. I sat and chatted with Kusmi’s gracious president, Sylvain Orebi, here from Paris. The product is old-world Europe with modern class, a range of well-balanced teas. I took to many of them right away, continuing to savor more at home, from a Moroccan Spearmint to Anastasia, a beautiful black tea with hints of bergamot, lemon and orange blossom.
- My other favorite new tea discovery is Steven Smith Teamaker. Getting a chance to talk with Steven and sample his teas, I learned he’s one of the original founders of Stash Tea, and he launched Tazo teas, eventually acquired by Starbucks. His latest venture is a labor of love, and as a smaller line, gives him the freedom to do the kinds of teas he’s always wanted to do. Clean packaging and colors make for an attractive product and the presentation of flavors is intelligent and playful. A caffeine-free Meadow tea (chamomile flowers, rose petals, hyssop) is described as “a Renoir you drink”. Peppermint Leaves is intensely refreshing and Lord Bergamot, a fine Earl Grey.
Locally, I’ve long been in love with the perfection of Sonoma’s Bellwether Farms‘ cheeses, fromage blanc, sheep milk yogurt… but, oh, their delicate fresh ricotta!
- Vermont’s Grafton Village Cheese sweeps cheese awards annually, and one bite tells you why. Whether it’s their beloved Grafton Duet, layers of cheddar and blue cheeses, or cave-aged cheddars, there’s many a worthy cheese here.
- Hook’s Cheese Company is Wisconsin cheese at its finest, run by a husband wife for 35 years. Their Blue is rich and crumbly and there’s a lovely, stronger, English-style blue, Tilston Point. A six year aged Cheddar also reeled me in.
- Atascadero’s Kendall Farms Creme Fraiche is a beauty. I’ll take it with caviar, over salmon, or on dessert, thank you.
- Korean vinegars from Epanie are natural and bright: there’s Hibiscus Herb or Pomegranate Herb, but I liked subtle Passion Fruit.
- Siggi’s is an interesting Icelandic yogurt – thick and concentrated, not light and luscious like yogurts I love, but their flavors, such as Pomegranate & Passion Fruit or Orange & Ginger, are subtle, delicate and healthy, made from skim milk with live active cultures.
Extra sharp, 3-year aged Black Creek White Cheddar is grocery store Wisconsin cheese, but the kind that makes nuanced fondues or pleases even a finicky eater.
- Yes, I’ve had this divine hard cow’s milk cheese many a time, but Grana Padano remains one of the greats. Created 1000 years ago and sister to Parmesan, it’s nutty, grainy perfection.
- Humanitarian coffee from Colorado Springs, Buy Well Fair Trade Coffee has smooth blends like Medium-bodied Screaming Monkey or smoky French Roast.
- Kicking Horse Coffee is Canada’s # 1 selling Fair Trade coffee by a long stretch. With playful names like 454 Horsepower, Z-Wrangler, Cliff Hanger Espresso, and Kick Ass, they’re having a lot of fun doing it unique and organic, while continuing to expand across Canada.
Mellow Argentinian wines at a good value: Atamisque’s 2007 Catalpa Malbec (blackberry, violet aromas, round tannins and hint of tobacco) and Catalpa Chardonnay (full-bodied with aromas of vanilla and pineapple). Rated at 88 and 89 points respectively in Wine Spectator, these are the kind of wines mild enough to please a broad range of palates or for casual dinners at home.
- An extensive selection of dips, preserves, mustards, rubs from Ohio’s Robert Rothschild Farm appeal to an all-American hunger for junk food but with gourmet flair. I could eat a boatload of Onion Blossom Horseradish Dip, heavy on cream and horseradish. Buy locally at supermarkets like Andronicos and Draeger’s.
- Cute, all-American Mom Likes Me Best sells Chili & Cornbread Fixins or tastes-like-Mama-made-it Apple Cinnamon Dessert Sauce. Based out of Lincoln, CA (near Sacramento), I found the owner and products homey and pleasing. Try smoky/sweet BBQ Sauce or Salad Dressing, ideal for potato salad or coleslaw.
Charming-person-of-the-day award goes to Sebastian Demmel, a cute, German grandfather type, who I met in the international section offering tastes of Bavarian cheeses from KaseRebellen. Call it novelty, but I had fun with a bright, orange Carrot Rebel cheese, made with fresh yoghurt and hay-milk.
- Pops A Lot popcorn is fun, 100% natural popcorn in flavors like Southern Surprise (caramel, pecans) and Roman Holiday (Parmesan), but what struck me was founder Noah Sheray’s story of popping and selling corn from his Beverly Hills apartment, which is now his office. Truly a homegrown business built out of a playful return to beloved childhood eats.