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
- 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.
- 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!
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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!
- 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 pickMy 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!“Poppa” Motta and his chorizo