The real reason for my recent adventure to San Francisco was the Fancy Food Show.  Twice a year the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade (NASFT) showcases all things in gourmet food.  The 2011 winter session hosted over 1,300 exhibitors from over 50 countries, with close to 18,000 attendees.  That’s a lot of jams and jellies.  A whole whack of olive oils.  Plethora of chocolates.

It’s easy to get glazed over walking the show.  When you first enter you feel like a kid at Disney.  “Ooh!  Look at this!”  “Yes, I’d definitely like a sample of that!”  But you have to pace yourself, and stay focused.  For me – I want to find the best new products, and identify what the key trends are.

Here are a few of my favourite things, amongst the probably 200+ things I tasted:

Unbound Pickling:  When I was in NYC in December, Rick’s Pickles were everywhere.  We sampled his wares at the Union Square Market, and they were quite delicious.  Rick better watch his back though – Unbound Pickling, in my humble opinion are the Kings of Pickles.  (and trust me, I would not bestow that honour frivolously)  Beatnik Beets with pomegranate and beet green brine, seasoned with chai spices result in the freshest, “beet-i-est” beets ever.  Bread and Butter Pickles with pear and blueberry juice hold sweetness with un-cloying complexity.  Bacon Pickle, takes good old fashioned dills and adds a touch (a breath) of hickory smoke.  I told you it was the Year of Bacon….

Bacettii:  Roasted pine nut gelato, savoury more than sweet with a hint of salt, in a two-bite shape, covered in dark chocolate and wrapped like a candy.  Need I say more?

Poco Dolce Super Chili Chocolate Tiles:  Founded in 2003, San Francisco’s Poco Dolce means “not too sweet”, and speaks to the fact that these confections usually have a savoury element to them:  sel gris, chili, sesame, olive oil.  Not only do the flavour combinations work really well, the textures of their chocolate covered toffees, and chocolate tiles are sublime.

Popchips:  There are tons of chips and things at the show.  These ones stood out.  Here’s the deal….they are not baked, not fried, they are….you guessed it….POPPED.  The snack pack has a mere 100 calories.  I know what you are imagining – cardboard.  WRONG.  These are so good – you can’t stop eating them.  And the best part?  They are already available at major retailers here in Canada.  Guilt free snacking – thumbs up in my books. At Popchips they like to call it “Love.  Without the handles.”

Biscoff:  “Europe’s Answer to Peanut Butter”…Peanut free….hmm….I really didn’t even want to get near the stuff, but was in line at The Republic of Tea for my free herbal tea travel cup…so I gave it a whirl.  Tasted just like peanut butter – and it’s made with crushed up cookies – biscoff….ingenious, kids love pb and can’t take it to school, pea butter tastes like…well…peas and chalk….so here’s to Biscoff….right on. 

Cypress Grove Truffle cheese:  I have long been a fan of Cypress Grove’s Humboldt Fog – the triple cream goat with the fine vein of ash – a distant cousin to France’s Morbier.  But that was before Truffle Tremor.  How do you improve on the Fog?  Truffles!  Black Truffles.  Heaven, on a cracker.  Done.

Endamame Hummus:  Hummus is everywhere – endamame is not too far behind – but here we have a combo of the two.  Fresh, tasty and healthy.

Stonewall Kitchen Tangerine Ginger Curd:  Rich and creamy, full of egg yolks and butter.  Fresh citrus and acidity

Stonewall's Tangerine Ginger Curd
Stonewall's Tangerine Ginger Curd

 of Tangerine, with just a slight pithiness.  Add spicy, warm ginger.  Awesome combo – wanted to grab it and rush out and make tarts.

Skillet Food Bacon Jam:  I found this product on-line when I was writing a post about bacon a couple of weeks ago.  Bloggers are raving about it.  My Seattle source has yet to send me some (hint)….but I stumbled upon it  – a tiny, easy to fly by booth – serving crostini, with a smear of ripe bloomy rind cheese, a sprinkling of arugula and a dollop of BACON JAM…..mmmmmmmmm…….BACON JAM…..They start with Niman Ranch bacon, reduce and render the fat and cook with balsamic and onions.  It is divine.  Simply divine.  Hands down, in my view, the BEST item of the show.

But what about the trends?

Bacon is the new Black:  Not to be repetitive, but this bacon thing is verging on out of control.  Bacon Jam.  Bacon Jelly.  Bacon Cheese.  Bacon Dressings.  Bacon Candy.  Stamped it – Bacon is HOT.

Italy never goes out of Style:  You can go in search of the latest trends.  You can seek out Peruvian food, Malaysia if you like – but don’t, ever forget Italy.  It never, ever goes out of style – and people always want more from this land of culinary delights.  Olive oil, tomato sauce, olives, pesto, cheese….Italy is king, and will be for a long, long time.

Bi Rite Window
Bi Rite Window

Sweet and Savoury/Savoury and Sweet: 

Orange ice cream with cardamom (ok, this one was from Bi-Rite Creamery in San Fran but was one of the best things I ate in California), Chocolate with Olive Oil, Pickles with pear juice – it’s all about the ying and yang – pairing sweet with savoury, savoury with sweet – mix it up – have fun.

Health that Tastes Great:  Once upon a time, people were willing to give up taste for low cal, low fat, low whatever.  Those days are over.  Manufacturers know that consumers are way too savvy for that now.  Health is great, but show us the taste.  Products like POPChips, Vitamin waters, Endamame Hummus are proof that it’s a whole new era of health and taste, and I say bring it on.

There you have it – this Canadian’s view of the 2011 Winter Fancy Food Show – just saved you a whole lot of cash going yourself.  However, if this just whet your appetite – check out the summer show in Washington this year.