There are some things we do, knowing full well that we are not going to feel that great afterward, but are still compelled to take part regardless. The Fancy Food Show is that for me. My love of food and geekiness about the latest, coolest, most interesting edibles being produced, keeps me going year after year. It is also totally gross. A massive example of food waste, over-consumption, capitalism and desperate marketing. But there are gems to be found amidst the flashy trash, and it is the detective in me that loves a good hunt. And despite the inner voice telling me to remember how completely stuffed I feel after hundreds of tiny little bites, I keep biting. Still, even if I gained 5 pounds in 3 hours I may have had the most fun this year. I was alone. No one else’s agenda, no meeting times or scheduling issues or appointments…and no toddler pulling on my legs or yelling “no” into my ear. Just me and my notepad and the search for some favorite new things.
BLANXART has won my heart for a long time. I can’t get this brand of amazing Spanish-made chocolate here in Santa Cruz, so my friend brings it to me when he visits from SF. The type that I have always preferred is their organic dark, 72%, which, despite the high cocoa content, has a hint of that creamy, sweet scalded milk flavor of the best hot chocolate you’ve ever had. But now, I have been introduced to their new line of single origin bars, from various growing regions, all packaged beautifully with a map and cocoa content percentage. I had never tasted chocolate from the Philippines, and it turns out that it is pretty rare. But there are a small amount of growers bringing the cocoa crop back to life after a history of clear cutting and Blanxart snatched some up to feature in their new line.
POK POK SOM is an example of a trend I’m seeing lately that I’m really liking. It is actually a really old concept, known as “shrubs” or drinking vinegar, it is generally a fruit juice base with some tang from vinegar or from a slight fermentation and a bit of sweet to round out the flavors. It has health benefits associated with it and offers a myriad of mixing potential for cocktails, but great just by itself too. Pok Pok, the amazing Thai food empire that began in Portland by James Beard winning chef, Andy Ricker, has launched this Som line in bottles that are available online. I really liked the Thai Basil and the Pineapple flavors.
SNIP CHIPS are made so close to me and I never knew it! The popularity of Kale chips and the conviction that we are eating something ultra nutritious even if they are covered in grease, has found a new outlet in this veggie chip line. But these are actually really healthy. Wonderfully Raw, the makers of the equally good Coco-Roons (sweetened with maple syrup, not Agave nectar which is being debated now as a highly refined, unhealthy option), combine “passion for pure ingredients and a healthy way of living, we sourced our ingredients from around the world supporting the wild, organic and sustainable movement”. That means that the “Cheesy Herb Truffle” chips that I tried are made up of parsnips, raw coconut, raw cashews, red bell pepper, coconut nectar, basil, rosemary, lemon juice, truffle oil, nutritional yeast and Himalayan crystal salt. They are crisp and satisfying, low in calories and high in health. I also love that they are taking not-so-popular produce and making it shine.
GOAT MILK CARAMELS from Big Picture Farm are really good. What is also good is seeing a really high quality, small-scale producer getting such acclaim. The “Vermont goat dairy and farmstead confectionary” was awarded the coveted Sofi award last year and a Good Food Award this year. It is run by a cute young couple with their 30-something herd of goats and a strong mission about ecology, provenance and purity of flavor. And their design savvy draws you in immediately, with whimsical sketches of the goats sprinkled on each one of their products.
And those were just the stand-outs! I sampled more chocolate than you can imagine, like Neo Cocoa’s Almond Butter Smoked Sea Salt Truffle or Claire Square’s “Sow Your Oats” Caramelized Oat Chocolate Bar. There was popcorn in every conceivable flavor combination, one of my weaknesses. Some weird Italian company called Pregel, who manufactures frozen desserts, were handing out brioche stuffed with gelato and then grilled…the hot cold ooze was hard to resist. But some really outstanding ice cream producers stood out as well. Steve’s non-dairy variety using decadent coconut cream was amazing, as was the new company, Choctal, who are making crazy delicious single origin chocolate and vanilla ice creams. The Palestinian Rumi Tree Olive Oil was great and the Halo seaweed chips were weird but strangely appealing.