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2010 FANCY FOOD SHOW – POST #1: The Great Eight – Best Things I Tasted

New Corse d’Argental cheese, one of my favorites at the Fancy Food Show

Every winter, the Fancy Food Show brings thousands of food producers to San Francisco – from artisan Italian cheese makers to Jelly Belly makers. It’s a food writer’s wonderland. I always visit to scope out what’s new, what’s got buzz and to spot major trends for the upcoming year. And, of course, to ruin my post-holiday diet by tasting everything I can get my hands on!

Here are my picks for the best of the best – individual products that left me wanting more (plus a bonus entry from the Bottomless Pit, aka my husband). Check back tomorrow for 2010’s top trends!



The Great 8 – best damn things I tasted

    1. Corse d’Argental cheese, imported by Fromi. I’m a sucker for Corsican sheep’s milk cheeses covered in maquis, the French island’s distinctive native herbs. The ones I’ve tasted, like Brin d’Amour, are dense and semi-firm. But this one, with its fresh, almost pudding-like interior captured my heart. We can only hope that when this new cheese is imported via the usual channels it will still be as fresh and creamy.

    2. Flavored olive oils that defy the genre, from Oleum Vitae. Yep, I know what you’re thinking. Do we really need more flavored olive oils?? But these new Spanish oils were amazing, and came in some remarkable flavors, like Kenyan coffee, chocolate, tomato, horchata and ginger. Sounds gimmicky, but they were beautiful, subtle tastes, and I’m dying to know what U.S. chefs will do with them. They also had a premium cherry-flavored oil that comes from 1,000-year-old olive trees. Intriguing – but a pity they didn’t let the 1,000-year old trees speak for themselves. Tip o’ the hat to the Virginia Miller of The Perfect Spot for telling me I HAD to try these!

    3. Q Tonic, from Brooklyn. A revelation that will revolutionize your gin and tonic. This is nothing like the usual sticky-sweet tonic waters. It’s made with real Peruvian quinine and sweetened with agave – just a touch – for 60% fewer calories. So clean and refreshing, I’d even drink it straight. Cheers!

    4. Olive Oil Tortas, from Ines Rosales, Spain. These were among this year’s Saveur 100, and deservedly so. Rich, crisp and seductive flat breads about 1/2 an inch thick, they also come in a rosemary version, and slightly sweet orange, anise or almond versions. There’s no sparing of the olive oil, so they shatter into flaky layers when you break them.

    5. Vosges ice cream. The “haut” chocolate company is rolling out an expanded line, with new flavors and packaging (their website is still featuring the old stuff). The Coconut Naga with sweet Indian curry made me swoon, and the other flavors are equally enticing. Look for Dulce de Leche, with Maldon sea salt; Red Fire, dark chocolate with ancho and chipotle; Barcelona Milk Chocolate, with smoked almonds; Bacon Toffee, with applewood-smoked bacon and caramel toffee; and Macadamia Cream, with Aboriginal wattleseed.

    6. Sence rose nectar, from Bulgaria. Packaged like a perfume, and most likely overpriced, this drink still tasted wonderful – the essence of roses. I suspect it will be one of the ultra-chic beverages that replaces bottled waters. But also look for it in cocktails. They were demonstrating it in mixed drinks, which also helped account for the mob around their booth!

    7. Pane Carasatu, the traditional, paper-thin bread of Sardinia, from Panificio Biulio Bulloni. These crispy rounds are still rolled out by hand – and I kept eating them by the handful! A staple food of shepherds, they stay fresh up to six months. A rewarding snack for anyone counting calories – like those of us who just chowed down at this show!

    8. Fruit-cheese tarts, from Pearl River Pastry, a baker that supplies Whole Foods. A reflection of the sweet/savory desserts trend that I’ve seen in restaurants for a couple of years (think bacon ice cream), these tarts are brand new, combining apricots with a subtle bleu cheese custard, or apples with brie. Not easy to market, the spokesperson admitted, because they’re just slightly sweet – not the traditional dessert – and can’t be kept in the dessert case because their pungent cheese aroma invades the other items. But believe me, their “delicious factor” is worth the hassle. With luck, look for them soon in the Whole Foods cheese department.

      The Bottomless Pit’s pick

      “Poppa” Motta and his chorizo
      My husband, aka the Bottomless Pit, greatly enjoyed Motta Spanish Brand Chorizo – particularly the chicken version – served up by Elroy “Poppa” Motta. It was low in fat, but the spices and seasonings were distinctive and layered (925-831-1900; no website).

      Check back tomorrow, for my top trends of 2010!
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Techno Sushi

Remember those tiny flotillas, endlessly circling with their petite cargos of hamachi, maguro and California rolls? Ah, sushi boats! They’re sailing off into the sunset – and maybe that’s a good thing. Did you know that food-handling regulations permit raw items to voyage around and around for four hours before they’re deemed too old to eat? But wait, that’s not what’s putting those cute little sushi boats into dry dock. They’re being done in by industrial chic conveyor belts. The craze started in Japan, of course, where it’s known as kaiten-zushi. Non-sushi items motor by on the continuous-loop belts there, too – soups, desserts, even packaged foods. It’s like a lazy person’s cafeteria. Now you’ll find conveyor belt sushi restaurants in Seattle, LA, Manhattan and London. I visited a new one that has a particular claim to fame. Lucky Fish is the only U.S. conveyor belt operation with a computer chip on each plate, part of a freshness monitoring system that boots unlucky (unselected, that is) sushi off the belt after an hour. Here’s how it works: when a new plate is placed on the belt, a reader scans it. Then, if it languishes on the belt for too long, the computerized system has a little arm that comes down and ejects it from the belt when the plate rounds home on its final, fatal lap. Lucky Fish is in Beverly Hills, which means that it is hipster chic. Crème brûlée circulates along with spicy tuna rolls. The conveyor belt even cruises by some tables, so a group of four can avoid sitting like birds on a wire. For state-of-the-art sushi, you might want to go elsewhere. But for state-of-the-art technology, this is a mini moving walkway to the future.
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Pie in the Sky

From the world of weird dining comes this: a square dining table hanging 165 feet in the air, suspended by a crane, with (seat-belted) diners arrayed around the outside and chefs corralled in the middle. Sometimes, there’s even a separate dangling stage with musicians providing dinner music. Belgium-based company Dinner in the Sky has been getting gourmands high since 2006. Their suspended table seats 22, and the whole set-up can be rented (sans chef) in Belgium for 7,900 euros per eight hours. That price is a bit steep for regular folks, but popular for trendy corporate gigs. So popular, in fact, that there is now a Dinner in the Sky operator in South Africa – and the Belgian rig has made trips to Dubai, Bratislava, France and Florida. Talk about a table with a view!
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