When the Fancy Food Show rolls around, my husband inevitably starts humming It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year. This year, the three-day foodie extravaganza was bigger than ever, with the exhibit halls of Moscone overflowing with 80,000 specialty products from food artisans and importers from around the world. Imagine an avalanche of chocolates, cheeses, olive oils, spices, jams, sauces, teas, snacks…that’s pretty much what the Fancy Food Show was like.
It is always nice to reconnect with old friends at the show, like Cypress Grove’s Humboldt Fog (which turns 20 this year — Happy Birthday!) or the insanely delicious Whole-Milk Ricotta from Bellwether Farms (which I just want to bathe in), but my favorite part of the Fancy Food Show is discovering new treasures.
Here are the Top 10 Sweet Treats that blew me away:
1. Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams
Somehow Jeni Britton Bauer has peered into my soul and created ice cream that transcends hopes and dreams. Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams are pure bliss. They are double rainbows. They are creamy dreamy magic. I am head over heels in love with everything about them. The flavors rock — Riesling Poached Pear Sorbet, Goat Cheese with Cognac Figs, Pistachio and Honey, just to name a few winners. The texture is ultra-luscious, high in butterfat and low in air (Jeni’s is the only ice cream maker we know who uses milk and cream from happy cows that graze grass). Even the marketing is crush-worthy – where else have you ever seen a press kit in the form of a vintage record sleeve? And that font? You are killing me with the cuteness, girl. Everything about Jeni’s Ice Creams is crafted with care, right down to the handwritten labels. Jeni published her first book last year, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home, the last nudge I needed to buy myself that ice cream maker I’ve been wanting for years.
2. Cardamom Salt Caramels, Helliemae’s
Every year there are one or two small producers that I stumble upon at the Fancy Food Show that just floor me with their passion, their energy, and the phenomenal goods that are born from their obsession and love of their craft. Ellen Daehnick and her Helliemae’s Handcrafted Caramels fall under that category of newfound gems. Helliemae’s deep, dark, salted caramels were love at first taste. The flavors are sophisticated and perfectly executed with big flavors that stop you in your tracks. My favorite was the Cardamom salted caramel – just gorgeous. I also loved the Jasmine salted caramel – floral and earthy.
3. Chili Lime Tequila Tortilla Brittle, Anette’s Chocolates
This Chili Lime Tequila Tortilla Brittle from Anette’s Chocolates is just brilliant. A perfect balance of savory and sweet, you get the satisfying crunch of bits of tortilla chips and burnt sugar, with a splash of lime and just a hint of warm spice. Love.
4. Scotch Caramel Sauce, Happy Goat
Founded by Michael Winnike in the Mission district of San Francisco, Happy Goat takes goat milk from independent, northern California, eco-friendly farms, and transforms it into handmade batches of luscious caramel. Happy Goat’s Scotch Caramel Sauce is a revelation — perfumed with Madagascar bourbon vanilla bean, with a seductive caress of 12-year-aged single malt scotch from Aberlour, and a subtle twinge of earthiness.
5. Vanille de Tahiti, Kona Bar
Launched not even a year ago, Kona Bar is a new player in the chocolate world that is bringing together the pleasures of pure Belgian milk chocolate and 100% crushed Kona coffee beans. A true chocolate-coffee lover’s dream, this bar has bits of ground coffee beans bringing a fantastic texture to the mix. Kona Bar is a new favorite of mine. The Vanille de Tahiti flavor is to die for, blooming with the heady aroma of some of the finest vanilla in the world, sourced directly from an award-winning grower in Tahiti. Kona Bar’s tag line is the Hawaiian phrase, No Ka Oi, meaning “the best” – and well, I can’t argue with that.
6. Mendiants, Nuubia Chocolat
Based in Pleasanton, Nuubia Chocolat is a new Bay Area chocolate company to keep your eye on. One taste of chef Lionel Clement’s jewel-like chocolates, and it was clear why he took home Pastry Live’s title of Chocolatier of the Year 2011. My favorite were the Mendiants — exquisite chocolate tiles with layers of crunchy burnt sugar praline inside, topped with a caramelized, roasted whole hazelnut, Sicilian pistachio, and candied orange.
7. Ube Ice Cream, Magnolia Tropical Ice Cream
The first thing I noticed about this ice cream was the shockingly purple color of it. The second thing was how delicious it was. Subtly sweet, with a fragrant nutty, buttery, coconut-y flavor…it’s hard to pinpoint the flavor exactly…it is Ube. Ube, also known as purple yam, is very popular in Filipino desserts. I have yet to try the famous ube ice cream at Mitchell’s in the Outer Mission, so this was my foray into the pleasures of the purple icy treat. The ube flavor is Magnolia’s best seller. Their Lychee was also good, but I kept coming back for the purple stuff.
8. Cardamom Ice Cream, Three Twins Ice Cream
I’ve enjoyed Three Twins Ice Cream before, but this was the first time I’ve ever had their Dad’s Cardamom. Wow-wee. This flavor is something special. It swirls around and makes your taste buds dance. You keep going for more until there is none left. Three Twins ice cream is made with premium organic ingredients, including milk and cream sourced from within 17 miles of their factory in Petaluma. Note to self: Dad’s Cardamom goes insanely well with another one of my favorite Three Twins flavors, Lemon Cookie, which is essentially, a pint of sunshine.
9. Naked Coconut Ice Cream, Coconut Bliss
As you may have noticed by now, there was no shortage of really good ice cream at the Fancy Food Show. I was skeptical about Larry & Luna’s Coconut Bliss. I almost walked right by them. I mean, vegan ice cream? Really? How good could it be? Well, as I quickly learned, surprisingly good. Don’t get me wrong, nothing will ever beat honest to goodness butterfat-laden ice cream, but for a guilt-free alternative, Coconut Bliss nails it. I loved the Naked Coconut flavor. It tasted great and had the cool creaminess that would satisfy that 9 p.m. ice cream craving. I learned that coconut milk is high in medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), which unlike other fats that have to be laboriously broken down, coconut fat can be used immediately by the body as energy. In fact, coconut fat actually stimulates metabolism and has heart-protective properties. Bring on the pints, keep the fat pants.
10. Almond Water, Victoria’s Kitchen
Almond Water tastes as pretty as it sounds. Sweet but not too sweet, and super refreshing when served ice cold. A French grandmama’s recipe, Victoria’s Kitchen Almond Water is made from California almonds, pure cane sugar, and water. I could see this being an elegant offering at bridal showers and baby showers, or really, for anytime you need a little Frenchie chic in your life.
Fancy Food Show, Winter 2012
January 15-17, 2012
San Francisco, CA
Check out coverage from past Fancy Food Shows: