Roughly fifteen hundred specialty food and beverage producers and marketers can put on a big show. That’s just what they did at the recent Fancy Food Show at New York’s Javits Center – a fascinating, intriguing, delicious, inspiring, overwhelming,educational tour through a world of food you never thought you needed but suddenly crave.
It’s a high-energy atmosphere in the convention hall as you walk through colorful, crowded and tempting aisles with food vendors of every type packed together. Gluten-free foods were a big category as this health-conscious trend continues to expand. Chocolate is strong, too. We passed twenty brands (all delectable, I can report from personal tasting) in the first two hours of cruising the aisles, each with their own distinctive style, flavors and presentation.
Kitchens of Africa was one of the most original displays. Jainaba Jeng, from Gambia now living in Raleigh, NC, was longing for the flavors of home and wanted to share the rich, spicy and exotic food heritage of her homeland. She developed four sauces to tell the story of West African cuisine: Maffe, a sweet, spicy and tangy peanut sauce in a tomato base; Yassa, caramelized onions, smoked paprika, ginger and garlic in mustard sauce; Zanzibar, an East African curry in coconut milk with fiery chilies, ginger and (surprisingly) spinach; and Mombasa, tamarind with spices and heat with notes of ginger, garlic and herbs. Use them for dips, marinades, braising, in the crockpot, or to make sauces. Go to kitchensofafrica.com to learn more about this budding entrepreneur and order some sauce.
Cheese is always big at the Fancy Food Show. Almost every country and region represented has a cheese tradition. This year, we spent some time in the special American-made Cheese Pavilion. (I had to be dragged away). California cheeses were well-represented including Cypress Grove goat cheese from up north in Arcata, CA (cypressgrovechevre.com), Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese in coastal Marin County (pointreyescheese.com), as well as artisanal cheese-makers from across the state. Cypress Grove was atheir new one-pound wheel of Truffle Tremor aged goat Chevre – an ideal balance of truffle flavor with their classic goat cheese.
Vermont cheeses were also out in force. Grafton Village (graftonvillagecheese.com) showed a number of cow’s milk cheddars, including a fascinating comparison of two cloth-bound cheddars, one made with the milk from a single farm and the other made with a milk blend from several farms. There was a subtle but notable difference. Cheese with terroir – I should have known! The Vermont Creamery (vermontcreamery.com) proclaimed that “Wrinkles are Sexy” and offered four aged goat cheeses with attractively and tastily wrinkled exteriors to prove their point. Consider Bardwell Farm (Mr. Bardwell was the first owner of the property) in West Pawlet (considerbardwellfarm.com) offered their family of six cheeses handmade with raw cow’s or goat’s milk.
Distribution and availability of any of these handmade cheeses is spotty and sometimes seasonal. The best bet locally is Fairfield Cheese (fairfieldcheese.com), a great cheese resource that specializes in American made cheeses. You can also check the websites of individual cheese-makers for local sources or mail order.
Speaking of availability, we talked to many small specialty food producers just finding their niche in the marketplace. Almost all said that Whole Foods in their home region was the first big company to take on their products. Kudos to Whole Foods for taking a chance on new flavors and rising entrepreneurs.
Preserves and chutneys are another palette-catching category packed with creative and original flavors. Mayonnaise is another segment moving upmarket, made with pasture-raised eggs and creative spices and flavors. Fruit sodas, with fresh fruit flavors and a gorgeous palette of pastel colors are fun to explore. Go to FranksFeast.com for more about these categories and other Fancy Food Show discoveries.
Of the many small producers, lots are family businesses. Laurie Pauker of Laurie and Sons (her business card says “Owner and Mom”) started making toffee candy and confections for her growing sons. Now the boys are all grown up and the family is making a business of their childhood treats. The same goes for Epices de Cru a Canadian spice company where the kids grew up in the family catering business – one of the best in Montreal (spicetrekkers.com). The focus now is on carefully- sourced spices from around the world, instead of the well-spiced food that drove their catering success. Parents Philippe and Ethné de Vienne have traveled the world in search of spices, working directly with local cooks and growers to get the best. Now the kids, Mariak and Airk, have joined in and are taking the business into teas, ceramics and spice education.
Forty Nine countries around the world bring their wares to the show. France and Italy have a big presence, of course, but there are smaller nations trying to break into the global trade in fine food. Uruguay caught our eye as an unknown with a lot to offer. If you look across a globe at the southern hemisphere, you’ll see a band of notable wine and food producing countries along the 35th parallel including Australia, South Africa, Chile, and unexpectedly, Uruguay. Wine, grass-fed beef, cheese and olive oil are world class and worth a look. Pauline Davis, Consul General of Uruguay, was on hand to lead the marketing effort.
Full of exciting food flavors, innovative entrepreneurs, and hard-working, hands-on food producers, the Fancy Food show is a window into new trends, other cultures, irresistible snacks and healthy options. There is a constant flow of fresh new flavors in the food world. I’m lucky to be a part of it.