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Flights of Food Fancy: Exciting new specialty items for your larder

| Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2009

Pizza in a cone• Bacon lollipops• Chocolate-flavored olive oil• While many odd items disappoint or are just plain silly, the 55th Annual Summer Fancy Food Show held in New York -- sponsored by the National Association of Specialty Food Trade -- had scads of winners, too.

Given the dismal economy, many insiders wondered just how this event would fare. There was some slippage: Australia was a no-show; wineries seemed scant. But Italy, France and Chile maintained a strong presence, and more than 70 other countries joined with the United States to make up the 2,300 exhibitors.

Surprisingly, show attendance soared to the highest level in a decade. More than 140,000 specialty foods and beverages crammed 316,000 square feet of New York City's Jacob Javits Convention Center. Fierce competition for the 33 Sofi awards (specialty outstanding food innovation), the Oscars of the industry, bode well for market vitality.

At the close of the show, exhibitors donate their remaining products to City Harvest, a major hunger-relief organization. This year's donation equaled five tractor trailers-worth of high-quality food for pantries across New York City.

As usual, showcased products encompassed cheese, charcuterie, olive oil, spices, snack foods, tea, chocolate, condiments, beverages, ethnic specialties, candy, even pet food and more. There was a lot going on, but certain trends did emerge:

• Blood orange, pistachio, yuzu (Japanese citrus) and ginger, along with Meyer lemon, pomegranate and hibiscus, are hot flavors.

• Bacon is everywhere, from the aforementioned lollipops to pancake mixes, peanut brittle ( ), chocolates and, of course, artisanal flavored bacons.

• Maple syrup comes into its own as a taste-booster.

• Honey explodes into a huge, sophisticated market, with all the nuances of fine wine appreciation.

• Health consciousness continues to motivate consumers. In this category, gluten-free trumps even all-natural and organic as the biggest growth sector.

• Portion control gets attention -- lots of 100-calorie snack-packs and a new item, Flavor Magic Portion Control Sheets that not only delineate the appropriate portion size but also flavor the meat, fish or poultry as it cooks ( ).

• Chocolate remains a life force.

• Specialty salts still dominate among condiments.

• Confections increasingly sport sea salt.

• Focus on delivering convenience continues with items such as: whole peeled and cooked chestnuts ( ); heat-and-eat curries ( ); jarred, just-add sauces ( ), organic, premeasured, single-use spices ( ).

Here are a few of the showstoppers:

Black Garlic

Black garlic generated the most buzz ( ). An ancient Korean product, it's now being commercially produced and distributed in the United States. Initially, it was to be marketed for its health benefits. But chefs, purveyors and home cooks are gaga over its unique texture and mellow flavor. The process ferments whole heads of garlic under high heat for a month, creating the startling black color. Cloves become rich, sweet and soft -- almost jelly-like, with no bitter after-taste and no breath odor. As Internet recipes attest, potential uses seem endless. You also can snack on the cloves, like candy, right from the package.

Specialty hams

Authentic, extremely pricey at $96 per pound, but fabulous, Iberico de Bellota hams leave all such pig products in the dust ( ). If you can afford the leg with the black foot and land one in an overall short-supply market, proudly display and serve it from a traditional holder, jamoneros . You'll also need sharp knives to slice it very thin . Housing one of these hams is an art and a ritual, but Iberico ranks as one of the world's great culinary treasures.

Spectacular Porchetta Primata claims "Kentucky pork pride with roots in Ancient Rome" ( ). Essentially, Italy-inspired porchetta is specially raised pig, boned, seasoned and reassembled, then roasted in a special oven above 500 degrees for at least four hours. The skin becomes crispy crackling, and the flavorful meat stays moist. The company sells the whole pig, with head on, or sections in three traditional cuts. Plan a party if you order the Tronchetto -- the loin, tenderloin, belly and rib plate: It weighs 16 to 19 pounds.


The FFS is a Willy Wonka dream. The list of chocolate exhibitors runs for three pages in the show catalog. Not only is chocolate ubiquitous in this three-day gobble-fest, but the quality can be stratospheric and the diversity of products makes your head spin.

The Titans of cacao -- established chocolatiers -- were there: Fran's inimitable soft caramels dipped in dark or milk chocolate, sprinkled with grey or smoked sea salt ( ); Anette's Chocolate Factory , which also makes exquisite brittles -- triple nut Bourbon brittle, with pistachios, almonds and pecans ( ); Theo Chocolates -- organic, fair-trade, bean-to-bar indulgences ( ); hip Vosges Haute-Chocolate , with sexy seasonings and exotic spices in bars and truffles ( ).

Askinosie Chocolates is stepping into the spotlight ( ). Shawn Askinosie, a high-profile criminal lawyer turned chocolatier, tracks down and works directly with cacao farmers, eliminating the middleman and advancing social justice to the growers. His products are inspired -- especially the 70 percent San Jose del Tambo dark chocolate bar, which took a silver Sofi.

John Kelly Chocolates ( ) captured the gold with his luxurious truffle fudge bits with sea salt. He also makes full-size bars -- rich, creamy chocolate fudge coated with high-octane chocolate.

Other Favorites

Mari's New York ( ) -- Decadent two-bite artisanal brownies come in six seasonal flavors and gorgeous packaging -- Mari Tuttle is a trained designer--great for gifts, favors and personal indulgence.

Somebody's Mother's Chocolate Sauce ( ) - What started out as Linda Lasher's project to teach her children about business -- a sort of grown up lemonade stand -- actually became one big-time dessert-sauce business. Initially her mother's excellent recipe for chocolate sauce, hence, the name, launched the company. The line now includes three no-nonsense flavors: the original dark chocolate, white chocolate and award-winning caramel.

La Tourangelle Roasted Nut Oils ( ) -- These most superlative nut oils are made from impeccably chosen ingredients, artisanally roasted according to a 150-year-old French tradition. The line includes walnut, pecan, pistachio, hazelnut, almond and more. The latest addition, roasted peanut oil revels in fresh, pure peanut flavor.

Sonoma Syrups ( ) -- All natural, artisanal and small-batch made, these simple syrups celebrate the spirit and produce of the beautiful Sonoma Valley. The newest flavors -- acai, pomegranate, black currant -- concentrate on Superfruits. Stir into a cocktail or mix with sparkling water and serve in a wine goblet -- perfect and versatile for the bar, chef or as a personal thirst quencher.

Savannah Bee Co. ( ) -- Founder and Beekeeper Ted Dennard spins magical tales of bees and produces internationally acclaimed rare artisanal honeys and body-care products. He also helps consumers match different honey to specific application: grilling, tea and cheese. To prevent sticky messes, he designed a dripless pump.

The Gracious Gourmet ( ) -- Arm yourself with chutneys, glazes, spreads, tapenades and pestos -- both sweet and savory -- to easily transform ordinary dishes to tour-de-force meals. Right out of the gate as a company, TGG won a Sofi for dilled carrot tomato tapenade.

Kitchen Table Bakers ( ) -- Aged Parmesan Mini Crisps, a gold winner, amaze in eight natural, rich flavors. Made entirely of parmesan cheese, they're sugar-free, gluten-free and addictively delicious.

Raincoast Crisps ( ) -- The ultimate toasty snack, fabulous on its own and sensational when topped with ripe cheese, pate or smoked salmon. The elegant crisps come in imaginative flavors -- from fig and almond to rosemary raisin pecan.

Nutorious Nut Confections ( ) -- An all-natural snack, topping or sassy treat, this unusual product comes in five mouthwatering flavor combinations. Ooo La La Original (walnuts, almonds and pecans) is a buttery confection. Cha Cha Chipotle (walnuts, almonds, pecans) gets some savory heat from chipotle. The company motto reads: "As vices go, this is as good as it gets."

PopChips ( ) -- Not fried, not baked, this chip is heated with pressure and popped, making it lower in fat and a healthier option. Natural flavors include potato, barbeque, cheddar, sour cream and onion.

Silver Moon ( ) -- Insanely delicious, this liqueur-infused line of sorbets and ice creams boasts oodles of sophistication. Just reading the labels is exhilarating: Mango Mimosa, Pomegranate Martini, Chocolate Cherries Jubilee. Classy, nostalgic photos adorn the packaging. You do have to be over 21 to consume. Ever been carded when buying ice cream?

Pestos With Panache by Lauren ( ) -- Founder/owner Lauren issues a manifesto committing to liberating pesto from the same old basil parmesan formula. Trust that her fresh-frozen creations will stimulate new dishes and flavors in your kitchen. Try Fabulous Fig & Gorgonzola, Decadent Dark Chocolate & Ancho Chile or the signature Pumpkin Chipotle.

Rishi Tea ( ) -- Organic, fair-trade, rare, artisanal teas, gathered directly from tea gardens around the world, celebrate the complexity and nuance of the beverage most consumed for thousands of years. White, Green, Oolong, Black, Pu-erh -- Rishi has one of the finest collections and a staff with encyclopedic knowledge to assist you in selection and proper brewing.

Harney & Sons ( ) -- This distinguished family-run business specializes in fine teas -- loose and sachets, tea accessories and gift packages -- including the popular Wedding Tea gift and a tea-tasting set that includes a book written by son Michael Harney, to guide you through learning to sip. The company's customer list includes renowned venues such as the Dorchester Hotel in London and The Carlyle Hotel in New York.

Boska Holland ( , and ) -- The world leader in cheese knives, servers and other cheese accessories debuts a new concept. The Cheese Barbeclette lets you melt raclette and other cheeses on the barbecue. The product features a nonstick melting plate and a spatula for scraping the melted cheese onto an awaiting burger, baked potato or baguette.

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