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What to eat now: Explore the ever-expanding universe of specialty food

| Tuesday, July 31, 2012, 8:57 p.m.
Boat Street Raisin Pickle  with blue cheese
2012 Summer Fancy Food Show
Boat Street Raisin Pickle with blue cheese 2012 Summer Fancy Food Show
Tonewood Maple Cube
2012 Summer Fancy Food Show
Tonewood Maple Cube 2012 Summer Fancy Food Show
Q Kola
2012 Summer Fancy Food Show
Q Kola 2012 Summer Fancy Food Show
Sir Kensington Spicy Ketchup
2012 Summer Fancy Food Show
Sir Kensington Spicy Ketchup 2012 Summer Fancy Food Show
Teatulia Black Tea
2012 Summer Fancy Food Show
Teatulia Black Tea 2012 Summer Fancy Food Show
Askinosie Dark Chocolate with Liorice
2012 Summer Fancy Food Show
Askinosie Dark Chocolate with Liorice 2012 Summer Fancy Food Show
Chocolat Moderne Bar - Lime
2012 Summer Fancy Food Show
Chocolat Moderne Bar - Lime 2012 Summer Fancy Food Show
Chuao Maple-Bacon Chocolate Bar
2012 Summer Fancy Food Show
Chuao Maple-Bacon Chocolate Bar 2012 Summer Fancy Food Show
Effie's Semolina Crackers
2012 Summer Fancy Food Show
Effie's Semolina Crackers 2012 Summer Fancy Food Show
Lark Fine Foods Lady Birds
2012 Summer Fancy Food Show
Lark Fine Foods Lady Birds 2012 Summer Fancy Food Show
Mediterranean Snacks Baked Lentil Chips
2012 Summer Fancy Food Show
Mediterranean Snacks Baked Lentil Chips 2012 Summer Fancy Food Show
Queen City Bacon Schnecken
2012 Summer Fancy Food Show
Queen City Bacon Schnecken 2012 Summer Fancy Food Show

Just when talking jelly beans, dancing waffles and people zipped into banana suits slipped to oh, so yesterday, food trucks rolled onto the 2012 Summer Fancy Food Show floor. Dispensing goodies, these on-trend vehicles spiked the already Disneyworld atmosphere of the National Association of Specialty Food Trade's annual event.

Since 1951, NASFT has been staging what might be the world's greatest smorgasbord. 2012's summer show played out in the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in D.C. (It will return to its usual home, New York City, next year.) Grasp the show's scope in the numbers: Thousands of buyers, vendors, importers, distributors, producers, media and trend spotters, 2,250 exhibitors, from 80 countries and regions, showcasing 180,000 specialty foods and beverages — including an almost inconceivably huge array of cheeses, chocolates, meats, condiments, sauces, grains and more.

To mark its special anniversary, NASFT debuted “A Visual Feast,” a new exhibit tracing 60 years of the products, people and pioneers who have changed the American culinary landscape (www.specialtyfood.com/avisualfeast).

The sofi (specialty outstanding food innovation) Awards, recognizing excellence in 32 categories, also generated considerable excitement. Popular Chef Jose Andres presented the coveted gold statuettes in a proper red-carpet ceremony.

TRENDS

Trend spotters roamed the aisles, assessing what the future holds in the specialty-food business. But isn't it all about deliciousness? Some pleasures to note:

Gluten-free is the fastest-growing segment in specialty food. And, it no longer has to taste like cardboard. Try all-natural, highly nutritious Mediterranean Snacks (www.mediterraneansnackfoods.com). Baked Lentil Chips and crackers and Veggie Medley Chips and Straws come in a variety of flavors, such as cracked pepper and rosemary and herbs.

It's a snack, snack, snacking world. Surveys report that adults and kids are snacking three times more than they were 30 years ago, with a quarter of daily calories consumed now coming from snacks. But a “better-for-you” attitude soldiers on, creating a market for “healthy” nibblies. Check out Snikiddy Eat Your Vegetables (www.snikiddy.com), in four flavors, said to deliver one full serving of vegetables in every ounce of chips.

Two young people and a herd of goats in Vermont catapulted to success with a gold for Best Confection. Farmstead Goat Milk Caramels (www.bigpicturefarm.com) are soft and sweet, with a surprising flavor edge — and they won't pull out your fillings.

Maple newly attracts a well-deserved seriousness as a luxury artisinal product. Founder and president Dori Ross created a stunning program,Tonewood (www. tonewoodmaple.com), a Vermont maple tree adoption program and premium-brand line of maple products. Study the program on the company's website, and try the elegant syrups, seasonings, flakes and the fabulous cube — to be shaved over oatmeal, fruit or ice cream.

JUST PICKLED

More than a peck of pickles, relishes, horseradish and ketchups filled the booths.

Love, even passion, comes with the first spoonful of Boat Street Pickles Pickled Fruit (www.boatstreetpickles.com). Figs, French plums, apricots and raisins, plumped in sweetly spiced vinegar syrups, pair with everything from steak and cheese to pound cake.

Relish or cook with ISH Premium Horseradish (www.premiumISH.com). The website gives recipes on how to enjoy Beet ISH (tuna salad, baked brie), Citrus ISH (smoked salmon, mashed cauliflower), Garlic ISH (seared scallops, mashed potatoes) and Ginger ISH (dumplings, pork loin). The horseradish pantry could be the start of something big-ISH.

Move over Heinz. Sir Kensington's Spicy Gourmet Scooping Ketchup (www.sirkensingtons.com) lights up the taste buds and tickles the mind with its witty website.

Tishbi Onion Cabernet (www.fruitoftheland.com) won Best Condiment. This Israeli producer uses wine varietals from its vineyards to make wonderful wine preserves and jellies. Fig Cabernet and Cherry Shiraz elevate savory dishes and desserts.

The talk of the show was Korean cuisine — Kimchi, certainly, as in Mother In Law's Kimchi (www.milkimchi.com) but also KIMKIM Korean Hot Sauce (www.ashmanco.com), concocted in a home kitchen and now winner of the Best Cooking Sauce or Flavor Enhancer.

Considering the number of Moroccan cookbooks released last year, the growing audience for this cuisine should not surprise. Mediterranean Gourmet (www.mediterrean-gourmet.net), importers and distributors of high-quality products offers harissa, Argan oil, preserved lemons, tins and bags of wonderful spices and more.

The amount of amazing cheeses exhibited could make cheese lovers weak in the knees. But a veritable dairy icon swept the field. Long in the forefront of the American artisanal cheese movement, Vermont Butter & Cheese Creamery (www.vermontcreamery.com) took home three sofi Awards: Outstanding Product Line; Outstanding Cheese or Dairy for its flagship aged goat cheese, Bonne Bouche; and Best Perishable Food Service Product — minis of cultured butter with sea-salt crystals.

Flora Nelle by Rogue Creamery(www.roguecreamery.com) — the artisanal producers of the best blue cheeses in America — won in the USDA-Certified Organic category.

COOKIES & CRACKERS

Lustful mounds of cookies and crackers beckoned from all corners of the show.

Lark Fine Foods (www.larkfinefoods.com), a mother-and-daughter team known for all-natural, hand-crafted “Cookies for Grown-ups,” tied for gold in both categories: Lady Birds, whole-wheat oat with cranberries and bittersweet chocolate cookies; and Scourtins, French-style sweet-and-savory olive wafer crackers. Also addictive: Lark's shortbreads in flavors of Burnt Sugar and Fennel, Salted Rosemary and Whole Grain Espresso Chip.

Mary Shannon of Queen City Cookies (www.queencitycookies.com) aims to treat each customer like royalty. She loves pachyderms, makes all-natural shortbread elephants, uses antique cookie molds and packages all of her orders with ribbons, flowers and inspirational cards. Green-committed, the company engages in practices good to the earth and in prodigious philanthropy. Queen Mary also produces, in The Queen City of Cincinnati, the most decadent Schnecken—oversize gooey, buttery, bacon sticky buns.

Subtly flavored and delicately textured, Effie's Homemade crackers (www.effieshomemade.com) come in three flavors: Sunflower & Sesame Seed, Roasted Garlic & Coriander See and Sea Salt & Lavender.

CHOCOLATE TIDE

Attendees floated happily on a sea of exciting chocolates.

Chocolat Moderne (store.chocolatmoderne.com) won gold for its Lime Moderne Bar — 65 percent Valrhona dark chocolate and toffee, infused with essential oil of lime. But the whole line of chocolates is gorgeous. Plus, the founder's fascinating and improbable background makes for adventurous flavors.

An outstanding bean-to-bar artisanal chocolate-maker, Askinosie (www.askinosie.com). aims for exceptional quality and chocolate that makes a difference in the lives of growers on four continents. Photos of real people, the growers, appear on the bars, and owner Shawn Askinosie pays them, in addition to more than fair-trade purchase price, 10 percent of net profits. A former criminal defense attorney, he more than makes a difference in the lives of the students he takes into small African or Philippine villages for collaborative projects. (see www.chocolateuniversity.com). Further collaborations, with other artisanal producers, result in delightful CollaBARation bars such as the sofi finalist, a dark milk chocolate Licorice-Lakritsfabriken.

Chuao (www.chuaochocolatier.com), a Venezuelan brother team based in San Diego, specializes in unexpected fusion flavors. Try Firecracker: a dark-chocolate chipotle caramel fudge truffle with a touch of salt and popping candy, or the Maple Bacon Bar.

Anyone interested in serious chocolates should ask Amy Rosenfield (email info@monaimeechocolat.com), or find exuberant confections in her world-class Strip District shop.

FREEZE PLAY

The outrageous heat found relief in broad consumption of ice creams, sorbets, gelatos and frozen desserts. Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams (www.jenis.com) makes possibly the best ice cream in the country — from local grass-fed cow's milk, with pristine ingredients, in inventive flavors such as Brown Butter Almond Brittle, Whisky & Pecan and Wildberry Lavender. But she also makes dreamy frozen yogurt: Her Lemon Frozen Yogurt captured Best Dessert.

THIRST QUENCHERS

All of this food requires hydration.

Of course, teas proliferate. Most are admirable and tasty. Teatulia (Www.teatulia.com), from an organic, single garden in Northern Bangladesh, is clean, fresh and smooth. And positively inspirational. Read about its mission to sustain the earth and its community through a revolutionary education, health and cattle-lending program.

Two new beverages to explore: Vitamin-enriched, green-tea enhanced, zero calories Sparkling Ice (www.sparklingice.com) comes in eight flavors, including kiwi-strawberry, black raspberry and pink grapefruit. Q Kola (www.QKola.com), using real Kola nuts, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and organic agave, balances spice, tang, savory and sweet. Only 70 calories, it joins Q Tonic, Q Ginger and Q Club in a superb line of sodas.

REMAINS OF THE DAY

As the show closed, 340 volunteers collected the elegant leftovers: 135,000 pounds of food went to the Capital Area Food Bank. Nasft also donated $30,000, in lieu of Jose Andres' speaking fee, to the World Central Kitchen. and the D.C. Central Kitchen.

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