Hot and not at the Winter 2018 Fancy Food Show

Serrano Ham Barbie

Serrano Jamon Barbie, in one of the many cured ham displays from Spain, Italy and the U.S.

There were several clear trends at the just-concluded Fancy Food Show in San Francisco. Coconut water and other coconut vehicles continued their march to world domination. Artisanal salt was big. There were 20 booths offering small-batch ice cream flavors, a phenomenon of modern refrigerated delivery. More worrisome, at least 20 booths offered some kind of popcorn snack. The world can’t absorb that much popcorn.

I ran into a guy who had discovered a rare citrus genome in the UC Berkeley botanical lab and is marketing it commercially. “Finger Limes” have green skin with the color, taste and texture of lime but break the fruit open and it is full of little flavor beads. He proposes its use in cocktails and ceviche. Another booth had K-Pop Sauce, Korean gochujang with a thinner consistency so it can be dispensed from a bottle instead of scooped out of a tub. This is such a good idea one of the big sauce companies is probably planning to copy it, but for now you can order K-Pop Sauce on Amazon.

Finger Lime

Finger Lime exuding its pearls, good for exotic drinks etc.

And cured ham! Serrano and prosciutto were everywhere, often carved from a haunch mounted on a stand in the booth. I made it my job to sample every one I found. The flavor differences are in the muskiness of the meat and the amount of salt, with most vendors being too timid on each. While I confirmed there is no such thing as a bad country ham, I was pleased that my favorite came from La Quercia, the Iowa outfit that gets many of its pigs from Niman Ranch.

Sea Bass Ceviche

This ceviche in the Peru booth was the best thing I tasted at the show.

The Fancy Food Show, if you’re new to the concept, is a twice-yearly event where distributors of specialty gourmet goodies connect with their retail audience. That would be small stores like Putnam Market in Saratoga, and also specialty supermarkets like Healthy Living. There is a secondary appeal to restaurants and other foodservice concerns looking for new ideas. Tasting is mandatory, and the floor is not organized by food group so you need to be able to choke down an exotic chocolate, followed by a piece of jerky, then chase it with some salty chips and maybe goat milk.

Popcorn

Too much popcorn!

My favorite edible was a ceviche at the Peru booth. Sustainable sea bass and conch were marinated in lime juice and dressed with dried corn kernels, hominy, red onion and a little square of cooked sweet potato. Got to try this at home. In general the seafood offerings, and prepared food overall (vs samples doled out from a package) were sparser than in previous shows. This may be less a trend than the result of some new restrictions on food preparation. Also, they changed the sampling policy to thwart lookie-loos. The admission price was raised from $30 to $95 and they no longer screen show visitors at the exits to be sure they aren’t sneaking out stuff. This took a bit of the fun out of it and caused many booths to just put out a bunch of samples, since they’re less worried about being plundered by the man in the street, instead of curating them.

Two days of this, and I’m ready for my New Year’s Diet.

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