Fancy Food Show ’09: I can’t believe I ate the whole thing

When it comes right down to it the Fancy Food Show (FFS) is not pretty or easy. Three days of tasting, even doing just three hours per day, is hard work! My new system of eating only savory food for the first two hours and doubling back for the sweet stuff for the last hour worked really well, but by the end of second day my buds and my dogs were B-E-A-T! and I had yet to set foot upstairs.

The next morning I was toast. Is there such thing as a food hangover? Or was it wine flu from the event the night before? Duty called so I dragged myself back for the love of cheese and smoked, fried, cured, marinated pork products that was my day three and it seemed to “cure” whatever was ailing me. Last night, I had a huge salad to ward off the scurvy and today I bring you my fancy food finds (if not necessarily faves).

Nobody move—I’m taking a dip!

I am baffled by the fact that some people believe it’s even possible to make a dip out of inferior ingredients, processed them in a factory so they can live in a jar, at room temperature, for months—even years—that is going to taste good. Is this what is meant by delusional food? When I tasted the Sang Lee Farms Ginger Scallion Dip, it danced on my tongue. Unlike many of the products at the FFS, it was FRESH!!! and LOCAL!! and clearly reflected the quality of the ingredients and care that went into making it. It’s made from the fine produce of Sang Lee Farms on the North Fork of Long Island. Plus, it has yummy surprises at times, such as the seasonal addition of red scallions, one of the rare and unusual veggies they grow at the farm. I also liked the Taste of the North Fork’s Olive Merlot Tapenade. The lovely Jeri Woodhouse makes it with Bedell Winery’s merlot. Jeri also does private-labeling for Sang Lee Farms and others. People are always looking for reliable and honest private labelers who know how to make outstanding products. Jeri had such a great vibe and her products were very tasty. I would definitely recommend checking her out if you know anyone who is looking.

You makin’ truffle?

Usually I find a lot of truffle-flavored foods taste like someone waved the fungus over the product and didn’t put any actual truffle in it. But the Susan Rice Truffled Popcorn, Squirrel Brand Truffled Almonds and Cypress Grove Chevre’s Sofi-award-winning Truffle Tremor Cheese shared a really distinct and luscious truffle flavor, making me think someone has created a super-high-quality truffle powder and they were all using it. Or they could be getting the prized mycorrhizal fungus from different sources… Whatever the source, it’s certainly an improvement!

If you knew yuzu

Another trendy food item at FFS was yuzu, a citrus fruit from Japan. I loved Anna Shea’s Yuzu Caramel and the tasting of Yakima Orchards’ rare citrus juices from Japan, including kaboso, sudachi and yuzu. They would be such screaming groovy cocktail combos, but they would also be stunning in ceviche or used in marinades or salad dressing. I could see a yuzu tart… Yakima Orchards also had brilliantly fresh and complex Ponzu Sauce made from the yuzu with kombu, mirin, rice vinegar and bonito.

The diva done et chocolate

There was chocolate everywhere at FFS. I saw some unusually shiny chocolates that looked like they were made for Barbie’s 50th-birthday chocolate tasting. I was afraid to try them and missed the name. I enjoyed the new Valrhona Nyangbo 68% Cocoa from Ghana and the 68% Milk from Scharfenberger. Love the Amano chocolates and Santander as usual! The Chuao Chocolatier Firecracker bar is still a favorite, since I love the nostalgic fun of the popping candy paired with the healthy burn of the chilies. Oh, and the Kerplunk from Sweet Bliss, which you drop into hot milk and a stir to make a hot chocolate with marshmallows was FUN!

Pick of the pork

Forget death by chocolate! I crammed in the pork products at the FFS since that’s how I want to go in the long run. But my buds were stopped dead in their tracks when we hit the La Quercia Pancetta and its pals, Prosciutto Picante and Prosciutto Americano. I’d originally tried their speck at Stinky Brooklyn and loved, loved, loved it. At the IACP conference opening-night party, back in March, one of the participating restaurants (Frascas?), paired their prosciutto with Parmigiano Reggiano drizzled with local honey! WOO-HOO! Outstanding. Upon retasting, there is no comparison to the other products I tasted at the show. From free-range, antibiotics-free, vegetarian grain-fed pigs, they make pancetta that was a mouthful of crispy pork goodness and the proscuitto just melts in your mouth, and you get all sorts of nuttiness. It is simply the best artisan-made salumi in the States that I’ve ever had the pleasure to taste.

Everybody (jar) salsa!

The rows of the FFS run red with salsa. I did not taste many of them since they are predominately too salty and vinegary. You do have to pick your battles at the show. I actually prefer fresh salsa whenever possible. I did stop by my fave jar-salsa maker, D.L.Jardines, and refreshed my memory by tasting their range of traditional jar salsa, picking Salsa Bobos Black Bean Salsa and Habanero as my best bets (no-go on try-hard Pomegranate). I tasted their new, yet unlabeled fresh salsas which use lime and lemon instead of vinegar and have a made-at-home flavor. They were very good, too. I love it when people make things the way they are traditionally supposed to be made and call it NEW!

About the black garlic…

This is gonna get me kicked outta the foodie club fer sure, but the one thing I have learned from tasting and teaching about tasting for all these years is you have to stand by your buds. The black garlic I tasted at the FFS was absolutely striking and would certainly be a conversation piece on any dish, but for my taste it was not moreish enough to be bothered with when compared to the numerous knock-yer-socks-off ways to eat and enjoy garlic. As far as umami richness? Again, I didn’t get it. When it comes to umami, I expect the flavor burst you get from ingredients like aged English cheddar, Parmigiano Reggiano, soy sauce or wild mushrooms. When you eat these on their own you get the absolute deliciousness that is umami, the fifth taste. When you combine foods that are rich in umami you get a flavor explosion. I did not get that from the black garlic at all. I barely got a roasted-garlic taste. It was unusual-tasting, sticky and sweet, but not compelling and certainly no bang. Plus, if I want molasses, nuts, tamarind, balsamic or any of the many other flavors that have been pinned to this “new super-food,” I can get said ingredients and use them. The “healthy” drink they made from it got a series of “Why? why? why?” from my mouth. Give me my antioxidants from dark chocolate and red wine, thank you! My afterthought was perhaps there are better version of black garlic, so I am not writing it off altogether, but this was not it.

F**kin’ Turducken

(I had to do it, forgive me)
I am not recommending this product so much as remembering that it made me laugh when I saw it. I tasted it and it was convoluted, which make sense for a turkey stuffed with a duck, stuffed with a chicken and then with stuffed with stuffing, or “dressing” as they called it, since Tony Chaceres is from the South. I guess buying a frozen turducken is a heck of a lot easier than making one, if you were so compelled to do so, which I imagine one only does so one can say one did—I don’t have that kind of time.

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