Fancy Food, a Spotted Pig & a Gelato Triple Play Part I

Yesterday was the last day of NASFT’s Fancy Food Show at the Jacob K. Javits Center in NYC.  My wife and I ventured in on Monday to walk the aisles and see what was new in the world of food.  To be honest, it was too much to absorb in just one day.  So I asked my friend, Giorgio Klinar (owner of Sotto Zero Gelateria in North Arlington, NJ) if he wanted to check out the show.  He said yes.  So we took the ferry into the City, and so began our New York City food adventure.

Let me start off by saying this was my first year attending the Fancy Food Show.  So for a newbie, I was extremely overwhelmed.  I mean I’ve been to the Javits Center in the past, but never have I seen one show take up the entire building.  I mean there were booths everyway.  Our plan was to not walk up and down every aisle (I actually did that on Monday).  Instead, our strategy was to attack certain areas of the show.  I think this is a better plan, especially on the last day of the show. 

In case you have never been to the Fancy Food Show, let me take a brief moment to explain to you what this show is about.  For those of you that have been, bear with me for a moment.  Okay, so the Fancy Food Show is about FOOD!!!  That’s right, Folks, you will see all kinds of food, from the obscure to the bizarre to the mainstream.  It really is a mixed bag of food.  The Fancy Food Show is where you’ll find the next big thing in the food biz.  On top of that, the show has pavilions that feature countries throughout the world and their specialty food products.  The country with the largest and busiest pavilion was Italy.  And all of this is takes place throughout the entirety of the Jacob K. Javits Center.  Every level is dedicated to the Fancy Food Show. 

Back to our whirlwind tour of the show, Giorgio & I started out at the Mexican Pavilion.  We sampled numerous cocktails made with reposado tequila, as well as one made with a Mexican beer & hot sauce (my favorite).  From there we moved onto the Korean Pavilion, where we tried Chunho Garlic Juice Premium. Umm, what can I say about roasted garlic flavored apple juice?  The word that comes to mind is interesting.  To be frank, this is a drink that the American palette might not understand.  It almost needs more apple juice to round out the flavor. 

From the garlic juice, we moved onto two booths with products that were exceptionally good.  We just so happened to stop by a chocolate booth for the company called Pacari.  It produces Ecuadorian organic chocolate at the source, meaning in Ecuador by Ecuadorian people.  This is a good thing because it not only teaches the people now to harvest the cacao but also how to produce the different chocolate products.  And let me tell you, they have some awesome products.  My two favorite chocolate bars were the one with aji ahumado and the other with salt.  Aji ahumado is a South American pepper.  You might be saying to yourself, “Chocolate & pepper! How good could that be?” My answer to you is amazing.  The pepper lends a subtle smoky heat to the chocolate.  For starters the chocolate is special.  This isn’t the stuff you get off the shelves of your local supermarket or drug store.  This chocolate is special.  The salted chocolate bar was another unexpected surprise of goodness.  It might seem odd, but I believe that chocolate lends itself very well to savory dishes just as much as it does to sweet dishes.  There is a perfect harmony between chocolate and foods that are savory.  A perfect example of this is the mole poblano.  This is a Mexican sauce of dried chili peppers, almonds, chocolate, cinnamon, onion, oregano that is thickened with crushed tortillas.  If you ever get a chance to sample or purchase Pacari chocolate, I would jump at the opportunity.  And if you’re not as adventurous as me, they have other flavors and styles of chocolate, as well, namely an Andean blueberry chocolate bar, chocolate covered fruits, nibs and coffee beans. 

The second product that I thought was quite unique and not too mention saltily good was Falksalt’s Crystal Flakes Natural Sea Salt.  According to the Swedish company’s brochure, “Flake size matters – larger flakes offer increased intensity of flavor, which means you’ll use less salt.”  Intensity of flavor, now that is what I’m talking about.  And boy, oh boy, was that salt intense.  They have numerous flavored sea salts besides the original sea salt flavored sea salt.  My personal favorite was the rosemary flavored sea salt, but I must say the citron, red chili and smoke were all quite good.  I know what you’re thinking, “Tony, it’s only salt.  There’s no difference in salt.”  But I beg to differ.  In my house we have numerous types of salt.  We have table salt (to me nothing special).  We have kosher salt, which I use on a regular basis.  And we also have two types of Sicilian sea salt, fine and coarse grain.  I use the coarse grain to sprinkle over grilled steaks.  The crunch of the salt really makes the flavor of the steak pop in your mouth, along with a drizzle of exceptionally good extra virgin olive oil.  Now that I know there are these other flavored sea salt products available, I will be adding them to my kitchen’s culinary arsenal.  This might sound crazy, but I think Falksalt’s flavored sea salt would go awesome on ice cream or gelato.  If this becomes the new trend, you heard it hear first!

Besides these two products, there were so many other great exhibitors at the show.  Unfortunately, I cannot list them all here, nor do I remember all of them.  However, I also enjoyed tasting PreGel America’s gelato flavors.  PreGel America is the U.S. subsidiary of PreGel which is based out of Reggio Emilia, Italy.  PreGel develops and produces ingredients that go into making gelato.  At there booth I tried a few flavors that really stood out.  They were Limoncello Poppy seed (creamy and lemony with a hint of alcohol), Roasted Almond & Fig (the sweetness of the fig lends itself nicely to the buttery flavor of the roasted almonds) and Blackberry Cabernet (the sweetness of the blackberries mellows out the big, bold flavor of the cabernet).  PreGel also offers a line of pastries.  I sampled what looked to be panna cotta, and that is where the similarities ended.  It was gelatinous and had no flavor.  If you’re known for making reputable gelato products, why dabble in pastry?  For me the gelato was the saving grace.

Formaggio (Italian), fromage (French), queso (Spanish), käse (German); the English translation of those four words is CHEESE.  And Mamma mia, was there a lot of cheese!  It was a cheese lover’s, like myself, dream come true.  I had the opportunity to try some outstanding cheeses from throughout the world.  One cheese that stands out, right off the top of my head, was a Parmigiano-Reggiano aged for over 24 months.  The usual bite of a younger Parmigiano seemed to be nonexistent.  It was nutty, buttery and luscious.  I also enjoyed a honey ricotta.  However, I do not remember who the producer was.  I was also fond of a Spanish cheese by the name of Campo di Montalban.  This is a three milk cheese (meaning cow, goat & sheep).  It is similar to a Manchego.

Like I mentioned there were many countries represented in there own separate pavilions.  These included Spain, Greece, Turkey, Thailand, India and Peru to name a few.  The largest of the pavilions belonged to that of the Italians.  Each aisle of the Italian pavilion was made up of companies and products from different regions of Italy.  An interesting aisle was that of Sardinia.  I enjoyed everything from their pecorino sarda (Sardinian sheep’s milk cheese) to their pane carasau (flatbread).  There is something magical and mystical about the people, cuisine, culture and heritage of Sardinia.  My favorite booth in the Italian pavilion was the Salumeria Rosi Parmacotto booth.  This was the booth manned by Tuscan chef Cesare Casella.  Cesare has a one of a kind personality.  He is over the top in his love for Italian cuisine, especially that of his native Tuscany.  Salumeria Rosi is Cesare’s restaurant located in NYC at 283 Amsterdam Avenue.  The culinary creations he sends out of his kitchen are phenomenal.  But the highlight of visiting the booth was the salumi aka cured pig products, namely the prosciutto cotto (cooked ham).  For those of you wondering if there prosciutto cotto is prosciutto di Parma, it’s not.  Prosciutto di Parma is made from a cured pig’s leg, whereas prosciutto cotto is similar to what we know in America as boiled ham.  However, boiled ham has nothing on prosciutto cotto…NOTHING!!  The Italian pavilion also offered many different types of pasta, olive oils, mineral waters, espresso, etc.  I could have easily spent ¾ of my day just perusing the aisles of the Italian pavilion.

By the time we got to the bottom level of the Javits Center, we were nearing exhaustion.  We check out a few more booths, namely a company whose product was crepes, tasty ones at that.  The crepe was not chewy or tough.  It just melted in your mouth.  The company was called Crepini.  We also ran into celebrity chef and restaurateur Lidia Bastianich.  She was promoting her pasta sauces & pasta products.  She was very friendly and she signed a couple of her brochures for us.  There were also a few more country pavilions including Great Britain, Syria, Argentina and China.  And believe it or not, there was another small Italian pavilion that featured Calabria and Tuscany.  We breezed through the bottom level in under one hour.  By this time it was 4:30 P.M., the show was pretty much wrapped up and we were HUNGRY for a meal. 

To be continued…

Living to eat,

Tony Mangia

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