That’s when literally thousands of food purveyors from around the world converge on San Francisco’s Fancy Food Show for three days of schmoozing, eating and crystal ball gazing. At stake: The gourmet “specialty” foods you’ll be craving and buying at your local supermarkets in the next twelve months.
It’s a whirlwind event for onlookers to witness trends, newcomers and great ideas bubbling up to the food forefront. Each year, we watch as enterprising entrepreneurs make their way from home kitchens and tiny storefronts into national stores like Whole Foods and Safeway and reach for Holy Grail recognition on Oprah’s Favorite Things List or the Food Network. Some will win. Many will lose. But the game is darn fun to watch.
It’s not surprising to know that the Bay Area is well represented, with hometown foodies percolating up through the ranks.
Here are some local favorites, national contenders and trends to watch in 2011…
Alterna-Wine: Wine is great. Except when it isn’t. For a growing contingency of serious foodies (along with designated drivers and business diners) alcohol isn’t always a perfect pairing for food — especially when facing down bottles with bloated alcohol content and palate-killing astringency. Straddling the line between soda pop and cocktails are a category of grown-up non-alcoholic sparklers with delicate herbal, fruit and floral bouquets. Low in sugar and with adult-friendly flavors like ginger, fennel, pomegranate and black currant they’re respectable and delicious.
Packaged in wine bottles, chef-created bubblies, Twelve To Midnight beverage comes in “original” and “rouge”, meant to mimic white and red wine pairings. Bright, clean flavors, muted spices, floral notes and soft bubbles make intoxicating…without actually being intoxicating. twelvebeverage.com. Related sodas include: GuS sodas in flavors like extra dry ginger ale or ruby grapefruit; Vignette Wine Country soda in pinot noir, chardonnay and rose. Need to clear you palate? A specialized “palate cleansing” water, SanTasti is a bit more than sparkling water, but far less than soda.
Yuba @Hodo Soy Beanery: The only American company to produce fresh yuba — the “skins” of tofu — Hodo Soy is an Oakland-based soybeanery with some serious star-power behind it. Cranking out freshly made organic, artisan tofu since 2004, the company recently named John Scharffenberger (of chocolate and sparkling wine fame) as CEO. Available at Whole Foods.
BR Cohn Ginger Balsamic Vinegar: Matured in oak barrels from the winery, BR Cohn vinegars are processed over months, rather than days. New to the lineup is Ginger White Balsamic, a piquant vinegar warmed by the fiery root. A natch for Chinese cooking, Asian-inspired salads or mixed with sugar, cranberry juice and sparkling soda for an old fashioned shrub — a kind of vinegar cordial. Related: Terra Sonoma Verjus: Made with the juice of unripe wine grapes, this gentler cousin to vinegar is great as a pan deglazer or salad topper.
Spicy pepper jam and Romesco sauce from the Jimtown Store: Continuing their dip domination, Carrie Brown and the Jimtown crew are taking their spicy pepper jam and Romesco sauce national. What’s Romesco? It’s a tasty topping of garlic, peppers, onions and almonds suited for pasta, veggies or bread.
Glop: A breath-singeing mix of Parmesan garlic, olive oil, herbs and spices, this Napa-inspired spread is addictive despite its less-than-delicious-sounding moniker. Spread on crackers, burgers or pasta, its a pesto-ish relative minus the basil and double the cheese and garlic. The minds behind it: Cookbook author and kitchen whiz Susie Heller and chef/food biz expert Michael Laukert who clearly know their way around a kitchen.
Yuzu Marmalade: Chefs love Japanese citrus fruit is often described as the lovechild of a grapefruit and Mandarin orange. Imported from Japan, yuzu marmalade, as well as yuzu-infused sauces are making their way to retail shelves.
Sir Kensington’s Gourmet Scooping Ketchup: One of my favorite items from last year’s show was Dulcet’s mild indian curry ketchup, and this newcomer is similarly intriguing. Clever pseudo-Edwardian packaging aside, the taste is sweet, spicy sultry and luxuriously tomato-ey: Exactly what you expect ketchup to be on it’s very best day. www.sirkensingtons.com
Guy Fieri’s BBQ Sauce: The Great Spiky One lends his considerable star power to a line of barbecue sauces and salsas from Italian food manufacturer Gia Russa. The sauces come in Kansas City, Bourbon Brown Sugar, Pacific Rim and Carolina #6. Usually celeb-shilled foods are a reason to run screaming in another direction, but these saucy little kickers are pretty smoking. We’re fairly sure the line of flushed middle-aged women lined up to get the Kulinary King’s autograph at the Fancy Food Show will agree. Money, baby!
Happy Goat Scotch caramel sauce: Another hot pick from last year’s FFS was under-the-radar Bay Area caramels made with goat milk. The lineup has expanded to caramels with winter spices and lime/coconut, but the talker was the caramel sauce made with 15-year-old Scotch.
Bubbie’s peppermint mochi: You either love mochi or you hate it. The chewy rice paste warpper filled with ice cream happens to fulfill my dual dessert requirements of being both minty and chewy.
TCHO Chocolate: Wired magazine founders Louis Rossetto and Jane Metcalfe put their tech and trend-savviness into sustainable dark chocolate-making. The SF-based luxe sweets and baking chocolates are focused around a flavor wheel with terms like “nutty”, “fruity” or “earthy”. New milk chocolates are in “beta” testing.
Caviar for Kids: Who says caviar is just for the silver spoon set? Importer California Caviar has a line of domestically farmed caviars and roes (fish eggs not from sturgeons) with everyday price tags under $10 and ounce. Want to introduce your little nibbler to the luxe life? The company has introduced Caviar Kid, a line of snackable caviar kits with whale-shaped chips or fish-shaped puff pastry, their own caviar spoon, an ounce of caviar and creme fraiche. At $48 to $62 a set, these aren’t a substitute for Lunchables, but can get your tiny gastronaut off to a solid start.