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Fancy Food Show 2011 – The Big Trends


Come to cheeses – extreme cheeses, that is. One of the trends I spotted at the 2011 Winter Fancy Food Show. This radical bleu from Belgium has the mold spores distributed between the curds, rather than by injection after the cheese was formed.

OK, the Winter Fancy Food Show is just a memory (except to my thighs), and I’ve finally had a chance to post my picks for the top trends. Maybe I’m the last person to weigh in – but I’m betting Ive caught a few trends (and gained a few pounds) that some others might have missed. Everybody’s a (Mini) Cake Boss The cupcake explosion has given birth to the cupcake decoration explosion, and it could put your eye out: sprinkles, candy toppers, chocolate bits in every shape and color, even deely-boppers everywhere. What next? An airbrush kit from Ace of Cakes, Duff Goldman. Yes, if you bake it, they will come. Extreme Cheeses Working in a coal mine kills your taste buds, according to a cheese-selling chap from Wales. All the dust meant that Welsh miners’ lunch foods needed to have a strong flavor. Thus was born Collier’s Powerful Welsh Cheddar, which I’d call extra-extra-extra sharp. I could see its tang giving a nice kick to recipes. This isn’t new, but I’d not noticed it before – a smoked blue cheese. According to vendor Rogue Creamery, their Smokey Blue was the first smoked blue cheese ever. Nice. And if you’ve got a good palate, you might even detect that it’s smoked over hazelnut shells. More unusual ingredients are showing up in cheeses too – for example, lavender or stinging nettles – and a tasty one called “Barely Buzzed” from Utah’s Beehive Cheese Co. that’s rubbed with espresso and lavender. Trust me, it’s good! Unusual Chips, Ahoy! Last year’s gluten-free mania continues to spawn new and stranger chips. Kale chips – maybe not, especially considering the strangely high calorie count. Black bean chips, from Beanitos – yes, please! These are delicious, crisp and savory – with 5 grams of fiber per ounce. Plus the company is bringing out tasty new flavors, like cheddar and chipotle. Granola chips? Yeah, it sounds odd, but Granola Flats, little planks of crispy goodness, won me over. They are high in fiber, packed with more nuts than typical granola and come in snack-sized bags like potato chips. Yet they satisfy your hunger much more thoroughly and would be perfect dipped in yogurt or (for those of us not mired in New Year’s resolutions) slathered in peanut butter or cream cheese. Bonus: The name sounds like the novel John Steinbeck would write if he came back in this century. The (Snack) World is Flat And, once you’ve flattened granola bars, why not flatten a few more things. There are now flat, crispy brownies (Brownie Brittle) and thin, dried slices of quick-type breads, called Slims (banana; cranberry-orange; cocoa). These products all seem to be at the intersection of crispy meets calorie-conscious. Some – like that last one – should stay out of the intersection. They are getting run over. Glazed and Confused Many balsamic glazes this year, in a wide variety of flavors, and from all corners of the world. Will consumers pick up on them? I have my doubts. There’s a lot of education to be done. Maybe home use will pick up with more restaurant use. Designer Comfort Food Whether it’s Lobster Mac & Cheese or mac with gourmet cheeses (like Cucina Fresca’s smoked Gruyere), upscale comfort food doesn’t seem to be going away. Will it outlast the recession? Tarting It Up I have a sweet spot for tart cherries, so maybe I’m overly sensitive – but they seemed to be popping up everywhere, from jams to a surprisingly delicious 100% Montmorency cherry juice concentrate from Cherry Bay Orchards that makes a fabulous, refreshing drink. Beverages: The Sweet Retreat And speaking of tart, I’m glad to see more and more beverages are cutting the sugar, creating refreshing, intriguing flavor profiles. Herbal influences are cropping up frequently in this new batch of entries, too. Thyme, geranium, lemongrass, lavender. All expanding our palates without cloying sweetness. My favorites were the new sparklers from Ayala’s Herbal Water – with intriguing flavors, like cinnamon orange peel, ginger lemon peel and lemongrass mint vanilla. Also loved their still line’s lavender-mint and lemon verbena-geranium. And, if you want to clear your palate, there’s SanTasti, created for wine professionals and tasting rooms. They’ve come out with a cucumber flavor, which is refreshing even if you’re not trying to erase the taste of anything. Wines That Aren’t There was a surprising number of non-alcoholic wine products from around the world – and carbonation seemed to be in. Spain’s Emina (you don’t want mix up any letters in that name!) Zero had sparkling red, white and rose entries (the rose was fun; the red was downright weird). It also has zero calories and contains polyphenols – both nice bonuses. Vignette Wine Country Soda comes in Chardonnay, Rose and Pinot Noir – all sparkling – but too sweet for my taste. 12 Noon to Midnight is a sparkler developed by Chefs David Burke and Alfred Portale to be a wine-like accompaniment to fine foods (with a price to match). It even comes in vaguely wine-like colors and a very wine-like bottle. The taste is intriguing and sophisticated, thanks to a complex, but subtle, blend of herbs, spices, fruit juices and teas. Jammin’ Jellies Perhaps echoing the DIY phenomenon, there seems to be a bevy of new products in the jam/jelly/conserve category. Some whacky attention-getters, like two-tone products; others exploring exotic fruits (mango, soursop, rosella) or “Superfruits” from Crofter’s (I rolled my eyes, but they were good!). I was blown away when I tasted French “jellies” (actually the consistency of honey) made from herb flowers (thyme, basil, sage) by Jean-Luc Sibille of La Ferme d’Alizée. In fact, the aroma alone made me swoon. I would seriously consider wearing them as perfume! The maker told me they’re good for glazing savory items, too, like roasted chicken. Sibille crafts other exotics, too, like geranium flower jelly. Somebody, please import these into the U.S.! The French confectioner Francis Miot (winner of a Meilleur Confiturier de France medal) also deserves a mention, both for making intense, sugar-free jams and for the wonderful taste combinations (raspberry-almond-ginger, for example) he blends. UP NEXT: My favorite things I tasted at the Fancy Food Show – plus upcoming coverage of my trip to SIRHA and the Bocuse d’Or! Like what I have to say? Subscribe to my RSS feed and spread the word with Twitter!



Noodling Around in Vietnam

Yes, Italians have their pasta shaped like butterflies, ears and angel’s hair – but on my recent trip to Vietnam, I saw noodles in the most unusual forms I’ve ever encountered. You can grab a hearty bowl of pho at almost any street corner (BTW, don’t call it “foe” – it’s pronounced “fur” in north Vietnam and “far” in south Vietnam.) Pho’s basic, fettuccine-shaped rice noodles are just the beginning of the Vietnamese noodle empire. In Hanoi, I sampled wonderful steamed rice-noodle crepes, wrapped around minced mushrooms and topped with fried onions… It was mesmerizing to watch the store-front chef pour the batter into her cloth-lined steamer then, a few minutes later, peel the slightly gummy translucent crepe off (all while holding her baby) and hand it to her husband, who added the filling, rolled it and snipped it into four floppy sections with a pair of scissors. You can see the whole process on this video: In Hue, the last imperial capital, all sorts of dishes were invented to coddle the whims of Emperor Tu Duc, a legendary picky eater. His 50-course banquets were a parade of winsome little morsels, including some descendents you can sample today. (You can also visit his sprawling tomb and imagine him lounging in the pavilion by his artificial lake while reciting poetry to a few of his 1,000 or so concubines.) I was surprised when one Hue noodle dish, called banh beo, appeared as a collection of 14 little bowls, the size you might use for soy sauce. A pool of rice batter had been ladled into each one and then steamed. They were topped with dried shrimp and a crispy curl of fried pork rind… The proprietress demonstrated how to spoon a bit of fish sauce on top and peel the disks out of their bowls… The same humble café served rice noodle batter bundled into banana-leaf packets and stir-fried. Each one was a flat envelope, a gift to unfold and taste how the earthy-green flavor of the leaf infused the pasta… In Hoi An, noodle dumplings are shaped around shrimp, ending up looking somewhat like a flower. Supposedly only one family has the recipe for these “white roses” (Banh Bao Vac) – and the water to make them must come only from ancient Ba Le well. You’ll find the well down a narrow alley, where someone will likely be pulling up buckets of water to fill jerry cans that fuel production of this hors d’oeuvre that graces most local restaurant menus… Cao lau, also a Hoi An specialty, may reflect the Chinese and Japanese influence on the cuisine of this old trading town. It features thick, chewy noodles, which are also supposed to be made with water from the legendary well. At its best (my favorite version was this one, at the elegant Brother Café), the pork broth at the bottom of the bowl is reduced to a rich, savory umami bomb… Be sure to stir it all up, so you get bits of sliced pork, bean spouts, noodles and one of the crispy little pillows of fried dough that top the dish, in every bite. Of course, there’s more, like wads of cold rice vermicelli that you tuck into rice paper with basil, mint, young bananas and grilled pork. Or the heftier rice noodles they slam onto the table at Cha Ca La Vong, the grubby Hanoi joint that serves addictive cubes of fish that you fry in a skillet on your own little brazier. And I’m sure there are oodles and oodles I didn’t even try!

Been There, Heard Michael Pollan

I’m a huge Michael Pollan fan – for his excellent writing, his top-notch reporting and his dry wit. He spoke last night in San Francisco. Here are a few of his meatier (grass-fed, of course) thoughts:
“As we have spent less of our national income on food, we have seen ourselves spend more and more on health care.” “You have as many neurons in your digestive tract as in your spinal column. What are they thinking?” “Sex is the only thing we lie about more [than our food intake].” “Big nutritional studies are off by 20-30%. Nutritional science is about where surgery was in 1650.” We are focusing on finding the “evil nutrient” in the Western diet, rather than the “elephant in the room” – the diet itself. We have framed it as a battle between “blessed nutrients” vs. “evil nutrients.” “As soon as you demonize one nutrient, you give a free pass to other nutrients.” For example, when fats were evil, we binged on carbs, like the infamous Snackwells. Supermarkets are filled with too many “edible food-like substances” that never go bad. “Those bacteria and fungi are still in touch with their food instincts” and won’t go near that stuff in the center of the store. The health care industry will save $500,000 for every case of Type 2 diabetes we can prevent. But that will only become important if the health care industry can’t cherry pick and has to cover everyone. “If any one wall stands between us and changing the system, it’s the House Committee on Agriculture.” Why can’t there be committee members who represent eaters, not just agricultural states? “There’s this unholy alliance between the hunger lobby and the corn lobby. One leaves food stamps alone and the other leaves agricultural subsidies alone.”
Since I’ve been doing work with the San Francisco Food Bank, this statement really saddens me. He’s referring to past farm bills, which also have included all the funding for food stamps and other food assistance programs. It’s ridiculous to link these two agendas, and nobody wants quality food more than hunger advocates. The unfortunate truth is, the “hunger lobby” has been forced to sleep with the devil, because they’d rather do that than watch people go hungry. There’s a real lack of attention to hunger issues by those seeking to reform our food systems – and those in poverty would be severely affected by an upward adjustment of food prices. It’s crucial that food advocates and hunger advocates join together to make sure everyone has food that is good, clean and fair. OK, end of editorial. More Pollan:
We need to connect the dots between production, health and climate change when it comes to food. Creating a “food czar” might help do that. “The Department of Agriculture treats food as a production problem.”
What’s Pollan working on at the moment?
“I have a young readers’ edition of The Omnivore’s Dilemma coming up in the fall.”
He’s also been asked by doctors to put together his rules for eating (aside from the seven-word mantra on the cover of In Defense of Food – “Eat food. Not to much. Mostly plants.”) If you have a personal food rule you’d like to share, you can email it to