Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Summer Fancy Food Show 2011

I spent the better part of three days last week at the Summer Fancy Food Show at the Washington Convention Center, tasting olive oils, sampling cheeses (I will mention one, a thistle rennet ewe's milk cheese from Casa Lusa of Portugal) and seeking out healthier foods that might be headed our way. The summer show is usually in New York but was in DC this year and will be again next summer while the Javits Center in New York is under reconstruction.

I saw many familiar, healthier brands: Cucina Antica tomato sauces, Lotus and Lundberg whose whole grain rices I love, my favorite special olive oil from Robbins Family Farm in California, organic acacia honey from Italy, Larabars and Kind bars.

In stopping at booths of other brands I recognized, I came across some new products that I'm looking forward to seeing in the stores. Lifeway Kefir has a new frozen kefir that tastes like froyo and will soon be available in stores. I sampled this product at Eat, Write Retreat (EWR) and trust me when I say that it is a winner. I tried the original flavor both times and it is just a little sweet, plenty tangy, totally delicious and low calorie and natural to boot. I also really like another item I had at EWR which is made on a Native American Indian reservation - a dried snack bar of buffalo meat and dried cranberries made by Tanka. Oddly delicious. Late July, whose cheese crackers I used to buy, is coming out with a multigrain snack chip that is as satisfying as a regular tortilla chip yet has some fiber and protein and is also low in sodium and gluten free.

Another brand of rice, Village Harvest, was featuring cooked and frozen whole grains and rices such as a quinoa and brown rice mix, farro and red rice, wheatberry and barley and a mix of brown, red and wild rices. I was particularly pleased to see these, as I have been boycotting Trader Joe's, my usual source of frozen cooked brown rice. Maya Kaimal, maker of delicious Indian simmer sauces that I do not use any longer as they are pretty high in fat and sodium, has a new spicy ketchup that I loved. It would be unbelievable as a dip for baked sweet potato fries, as a topping on sandwiches, or as the base for a sauce. I also noted that another jarred Italian tomato sauce brand, La Famiglia Del Grosso has revised its recipes to make them lower in sodium. Pearl River Bridge, a Chinese company whose dark soy sauce and dark vinegar I've used, is now offering a low sodium soy sauce and told me they will have a gluten free version soon, too. Pereg, a kosher brand, now has a quinoa and mushroom boxed mix with very little added sodium.

I spent quite a bit of time at the booth of Isela Hernandez of Hernan Mexican Chocolate. The Mexican chocolate she sells is far better than the brands I've used before when making mole. She also sells prep ware such as wooden molinillos for frothing Mexican hot chocolate (one of Maddy's favorites!), as well as a type of ceramic pot called "ollo de barro" which she used for making hot chocolate. I'm looking forward to making some of Isela's hot chocolate for Maddy when it cools off.

I was really impressed with one of the many teas I saw and tasted at the show. I have been very loyal to Taylor's of Harrogate Afternoon Darjeeling and Scottish breakfast teas, and have never before given any thought to using organic tea. However, after speaking with the representative of the family run, organic Teatulia, I plan to investigate further. After all, I buy many organic fruits and vegetables, I'm not sure I'm happy about pesticides sprayed on my tea leaves. Teatulia's teas are fresh and clean tasting and are strong without being bitter. I was able to use one of the Earl of Bengal (their Earl Grey) tea bags to make not just one, but a second perfectly well brewed cup of tea. I also tasted the lemongrass herbal tea, which Teatulia suggests you can also use to infuse a pot of rice. The best part about this tea is the company's mission to help raise up the area in which the tea is grown in Bangaladesh.

I also tried out some items I've never seen before such as popped sorghum which looks just like tiny popcorn and tastes just like popcorn but as it's a grain has no kernel to get stuck in your teeth. This was pretty tasty, but I found the tiny, bead-like size a little awkward for eating. I also came across an umami paste made from a tomato base with just about every umami rich food thrown in: mushrooms, anchovies, parmigiano, olives and balsamic vinegar. It was a little fishy when I sampled it plain, but I think it will have a myriad of uses in cooking whenever a dash of fish sauce would come in handy. I added it to a ragu last week to great effect. It's called Taste 5 Umami Paste and is made in Italy for a British food personality, Laura Santtini.

There was a pop-up restaurant powered by Korean chefs at which I received a sample of dried kim chi which can either be reconstituted or crumbled as is. I'm curious to see how it matches up to fresh. Olivia's croutons, which are the house croutons at Fresh Market, which is soon coming to Rockville, were tasty and consist only of the ingredients I use when I make my own. They are made in the barn of a family farm in Vermont. Himalasalt, from Great Barrington, MA, had some beautiful and useful products made from Himalayan Pink Salt.

Some of the foods I liked were international and not yet distributed in the DC area. A company from Italy, called Pedon, is trying to get more distribution in the US for its sodium free, grain, rice and legume mixes. Although I did not have a chance to taste the end product, the packages included quick cooking farro, 5 grain mix and barley with pulses (lentils). I also tasted some delicious soft cheese from Serbia that ranged in creaminess from yogurt-like to fromage blanc to creme fraiche. I tasted an interesting oil, Sacha Vida, from the Sacha Inchi seed from Peru. Supposedly, this oil is as high in Omega-3 as fish oil. Fillette bottled water from Italy tasted much like Pellegrino, but with no sodium. I really liked a new soy and potato pop style chip from France called Too Good! Very lo cal, but I couldn't tell what the sodium content was as it was a French label. I liked both the tomato and herb flavor as well as the bacon flavor. I was surprised at how much I liked a mead (wine made from fermenting honey) from Poland after being very underwhelmed by mead when I tried it in Chinon, France many years ago.

A few very small, new companies had some interesting products to share. A product I really liked was an Ethiopian simmer sauce from Satisfy Your Soul out of Burlington, North Carolina. It had a complex spice without overwhelming with heat. One of my show favorites was Sallie's Greatest Jams from South Carolina. In a hall filled with hundreds of jam purveyors, Sallie's flavor combinations stayed with me. Her use of herbs with each fruit is what I would do if I was more motivated and are just what I like to eat. I particularly liked her strawberry basil which I tasted with some goat cheese. Another new product, Bagel Spice, is basically selling the toppings of an everything bagel in a shaker jar. Very creative and clever, but I'm not sure how much I'd use such a product without an accompanying bagel.

I mostly avoided sweets but the Tate's Bake Shop booth drew me in with its signs advertising its Whole Wheat Dark Chocolate Chip cookie. I've had great success making Kim Boyce's version so I was very interested to try this one. This is not health food by any stretch with its buttery crisp bite, but it is made with the healthier whole wheat and dark chocolate and worth an occasional splurge. Tate's is a shop in Southampton, NY which also sells by mail order.

And, on the completely non-healthy side of things, falling within the category of a deliciousness that should be experienced but a little goes a long way, are 1) Skillet's Bacon Jam bacon spread which was amazing on a cracker with a little Brie and arugula and would be even more amazing on a burger; and 2) Fermin's Jamon Iberico de Belotta which comes from acorn fed black footed pigs from Spain. If you ever have the opportunity, especially for free, just try it!

Amidst all the food there were also a few booths of non-food, but food related products. Paper Chef makes unbleached, compostable parchment paper baking products such as cupcake cups, parchment paper, and pre-made parchment bags, which avoid the need to crimp and twist when cooking in parchment. Toastabag, a completely ingenious product if it works, is a sleeve in which you can make grilled cheese or pizza in a regular slice toaster. Since I just retired my old toaster oven in favor of a slice toaster, I'm very curious to see how these work. Supposedly, each bag can be used up to 50 times and can even be washed in the dishwasher. I'll keep you posted on these as I try them.

As I had other commitments the morning of the last day of the show, I ended up arriving in the afternoon and so, was just leaving as the show ended. I was warmed to see that within minutes of the announcement that the show was officially over, black and white tee shirt clad volunteers from the DC Central Kitchen fanned out through the rows of booths, to collect leftover food. I have since read that they gleaned over 100,000 pounds of usable food that will either be donated to other needy groups or turned into meals for the homeless of DC!

A final note about the above opinions - these are just things that struck my fancy as I wandered through the show. Other than the samples at the show which were available to all attendees, I've received no compensation to provide these opinions. Just my two cents, and mine alone, for anyone who cares to read such a long post!


  1. I wish we had connected last week! I was at the show too. So many awesome products. I think I stopped by the Wholly Guacamole booth three times :)

  2. Wendy, This looked like a fun show! Thanks for the lo-down on what was there. It will be fun to look for these products in local stores in the coming months ...perhaps. Bonnie

  3. Maris, wish I'd known you were here - we could have tried to meet up!

    Bonnie - I'm still waiting on lots of them! Really would like to find that frozen kefir!

  4. I saw the Sacha Vida oil at Rick's Wine & Gourmet in Old Town Alexandria. It definitely tastes better than fish oil and it is healthier.