Winter Wonderland

The aisles of the Fancy Food Show were bedecked with the latest in gourmet offerings.

By Richard Turcsik

In mid-January, while the Eastern half of the country was shoveling out of weather that was downright frightful, attendees at the 36th Winter Fancy Food Show were experiencing an array of products that were delicious and delightful.

While the outside weather in San Francisco was a perfect 65 degrees, just about everyone stayed indoors, cramming the show’s 50 aisles in two buildings of the Moscone Center to see the latest in gourmet offerings and a celebrity citing or two. Ace of Cakes star Duff Goldman was at the Stillwater, Minn.-based Gartner Studios booth promoting his new line of cakes mixes, fondant, pans and baker’s tools.

Across the show floor, the Barefoot Contessa was talking about her latest cake mixes. “We are doing a banana cake with cream cheese frosting and these outrageous brownie cookies, which are brownies in a cookie form, and coffee cake muffins,” the Barefoot Contessa, of  York, Maine-based Barefoot Contessa Pantry told Grocery Headquarters. “Red velvet is still big, really, really big,” she added. “My boxes include not only the cake, but also the frosting mix, so you just have to add a few fresh products.”

Over at the San Ramon, Calif.-based Brands of Britain booth, several imported British items were being sampled, including Highland Spring organic “fine dining” water from Scotland and Fever-Tree all-natural mixers. “The Fever-Tree mixers are really taking off and retailers are really jumping on the bandwagon, selling them in the soda aisle and also with the alcoholic beverages,” said Holly Hartz, public relations director.

Another popular Brands of Britain product was the Dean’s of Scotland shortbread and Oat cookies. “They are pretty darn delicious and brand new for us.” Hartz said.

Attendees were drawn to the Lucini Italia booth by the lure of the Miami-based company’s gourmet imported estate-grown olive oils and pasta sauces. Many buyers were intrigued by Lucini’s gift tins of olive oils. “This year we’re sticking with our tried and true, which has been very successful for us,” said Meagan Parrado, communications manager.

Say cheese!
Cheese was one of the most popular categories at the show, with products from several dozen manufacturers being sampled. Gérald Roux, CEO of Bulle, Switzerland-based Fromage Gruyere S.A., was slicing up a wedge of his 1655 Gruyere. “1655 Gruyere is a cheese made with milk from three small dairies in Gruyere. The name 1655 reflects the tradition of this product and the first year that this cheese was produced. It is very popular in Switzerland and this is the first time we are bringing it over to the States.”

Over at the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board (WMMB) booth, cheddar blue—a combination of cheddar and blue cheeses—was one of the up-and-coming trends witnessed. “This cheese was developed specifically and exclusively for Red Barn Family Farms milk,” said Terry Homan, co-founder of Appleton, Wis.-based Red Barn Family Farms. “It’s a brined cheddar and the Gorgonzola mold is introduced early in the process. As the cheese ages, the veining spreads throughout the cheese.”

Sara Hill, culinary manager, cheese education, at Madison, Wis.-based WMMB, said cave-aged cheeses are extremely popular this year. “Cave-aged is a huge theme in the American industry in general and especially in Wisconsin,” she said.

Mary Bess Michaletz, director of sales and marketing at La Crosse, Wis.-based Farmhouse Kitchens Cooperative, was informing passersby about why her company’s Hand Rolled Butter, packaged in old-fashioned wax paper rolls, is better than the commercial butters filling the dairy case. “What makes this butter special is that the cream is really local, very high quality and made fresh when we order it so, we never freeze it or store it,” she says. “Also, it’s pulled from the churn by hand so it never gets pumped or extruded, so the butterfat is in its original beautiful buttery state and isn’t broken down.”

New York-based Amer­ican Roland Food Corp. created a showstopper by putting a new twist on Rice-A-Roni with its line of flavored Quinoa. Available in Roasted Garlic, Garden Vegetable, Black Bean, Toasted Sesame Ginger and Mediterranean varieties, consumers simply heat them in a saucepan for 15 minutes with water.

“People are going crazy for this,” said Nicole Moore, public relations coordinator. “This is the newest thing. Quinoa is exploding, but a lot of people say it is bitter and don’t know how to cook it. This is so delicious and super healthy.”

R. Scott Henning, director of research and development at Lemont, Ill.-based Xcell International Corp., was demonstrating its line of David Jacob’s flavored grape seed oils and vinegars in non-aerosol spray cans. “De­pend­ing on how hard you push the button this product can either drip, come out as a stream or comes out as a fan spray,” Henning said. “It is in a sealed pouch inside the can so there is no chance of oxidation, so the shelf life is 18 months to three years.”

Domonic Biggi, executive vice president of Beaverton, Ore.-based Beaverton Foods was touting the company’s newly acquired Pacific Farms Wasabi line. “We fly the raw product in from Asia and then value-process it here,” he said. “We’re finding that most of the product that comes from Japan is really horseradish powder with mustard oil—there’s no wasabi in it.”

Unlike horseradish, which is a root, wasabi is a rhizome that grows along the surface, similar to an iris or ginger, Biggi explained. “Right now we sell it frozen and it is merchandised in the frozen and refrigerated sections, but we are developing a shelf-stable version of it.”

Doug Renfro, president of Ft. Worth, Texas-based Renfro Foods, was displaying the company’s Ghost Pepper Salsa—made from the hottest pepper know to man—which is now ready for distribution. “We introduced it in September and it’s been the fastest growing new item we’ve ever had,” Renfro said.

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