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!