I have been out of touch and offline for a few weeks, but I assure you that the dessert exploration has not stopped! The flu, work and family vacation took me away from Lovescool, but now I’m back and look forward to telling you about my recent adventures with Fancy Food, Lobster Ice Cream, Hakuunnohotori, and much more. Ok, enough with the promises and onto the desserts!
The Fancy Food Show came through NYC July 3-5, bringing together specialty food vendors from around the world. Based on the vendors participating, the term “specialty food” seems to include any edible product that is made by a small company or has an unusual twist, although I did see relatively well established players like Vosges Haut Chocolat and Schokinag participating. With an unlimited supply of free samples, the show is a foodie’s dream and a dieter’s worst nightmare. Cheese, chocolate, bread, crackers, meat, pasta, yogurt, pastries, coffee, tea and everything else you can dream of is represented. I limited myself to small sample bites at interesting stations, but I still completely over did it.
The thing that pushed me over the edge was discovering a dessert sauce tasting area at the back of the stadium after I had gone through rows and rows of vendors. The show had set up 4 twenty-foot tables with samples of dessert sauces for participants to taste and compare. I felt like I had won the golden ticket, and I was free to dive in without any chaperone to stop me. I have to admit it was difficult to compare so many different flavors of sauces one after the other, especially without any ice cream or pastry to accompany it, but I managed to discover a few gems.
The main show area was divided into two sections – the general area and the regional sections where vendors were grouped by country of origin (the United States area was broken down by state on a different floor.) I was slightly disappointed in the regional areas and felt that most of the products available in each country’s section were stereotypical of the region. Italy had a large percentage of the floor space, and it seemed like every other booth was olive oil or prosciutto. Spain was similar, and its biggest draw was a station serving prepackaged paella.
It would be interesting if future food shows grouped vendors by food type (or by complimentary products like cheese and crackers), so you can do a more of an equal comparison between products. It was less than ideal to eat a potato chip at one station and a chocolate truffle right next door. This was done well in the dessert sauce area, but only individual samples were available and if you wanted more information about the product you had to submit a form or find the vendor in the main booth area.
After running through hundreds of vendors, I picked a few shining stars that I hope to find at my local specialty food shops soon. The best in show include:
Best Cookies: Elsa’s Story
Elsa’s Story, an old fashioned cookie company, aims to recapture a time where tastes were simple and everyone was more carefree. Their Brown Sugared Butter Cookies, a bite size butter cookie coated in brown sugar, is a classic creation that transcends any time period. It’s perfectly buttery and sweet, and the crunch of the large sugar crystals around the edges remind me of my favorite butter cookies that come in round tins at Christmas. Elsa’s new Blueberry Filled Butter cookies are also an excellent choice, and are perfectly soft and creamy which is hard to find in prepackaged cookies.
An honorable mention also goes to Flathau’s Gourmet Cookies - who have adorable packaging and make a great, crunchy Peppermint Snaps cookie.
Best Chocolates: Noble Chocolates
Noble Chocolates make little cups of chocolate filled in a variety of flavors like Champagne, Caramel, Amaretto and Mokka. The thin chocolate “cup” melts into the center as you bite in, creating a perfectly smooth, rich truffle that is one of the best around.
Best Dessert Sauce: Manicaretti Italian Food Imports, Acetaia Leonardi Saba
Acetaia Leonardi Saba is the envy of all dessert sauces. Its sweet, complex flavor made it stand out from a selection of over 50 sauces in the tasting area of the show. I think its product description alone will give you a sense of how fancy this sauce really is; “Saba is the sweet reduction of grape must, simmered in copper kettles over an open flame. It is the exact same must used for balsamic vinegar, but cooked down more, to about one-third its original volume. Aged for two years in chestnut and oak barrels, Saba is a pure, sweet, syrupy expression of the Trebbiano or Lambrusco grape. With a fantastic fruity character, Saba has hints of grapes, plums, and raisins. Try drizzling it over cheesecake, dressing a fruit salad, serving it on panna cotta, using it in marinades, or serving it over ice cream.”
An honorable mention also goes out to Tulocay & Company’s Belgian Chocolate sauce with Kona Coffee. All of Tulocay & Company’s products are made in small batches in Napa Valley, resulting in “rich, homemade flavors.” Their new chocolate sauce with Kona Coffee is so thick and rich you’ll only need a tablespoon on top of any dessert to feel satisfied. It’s a perfect balance of dark chocolate and coffee, and is so good I actually said “wow” out loud after trying it.
Best Coffee: Neighbors Snickerdoodle Coffee
The aroma of cinnamon and sugar is what gives this coffee the classic snickerdoodle flavor. Unlike most flavored coffees, it does not taste sugary or syrupy and maintains a nice, strong coffee flavor. It’s a perfect drink to end a meal where you’re too full for dessert, but want something warm and sweet to complete the meal.
Best Novelty Item: Fiddes Payne Sugar ‘N’ Spice Grinders
A fun way to top desserts with freshly ground sugar and spices. The jars come in chocolate and sugar, vanilla and sugar or cinnamon and sugar.
Best Design: Hagensborg
Hangensborg brings to life its chocolate through cute characters like Leone, the King of Belgian Chocolates, Kiss Me, the Frog Prince and Snuffly, the Truffle Pig. The fairy tale theme carries through everything they do, from their website to their packaging to the shapes of the chocolates themselves. The design is sophisticated and fun, and is a model for presentation in the chocolate world.
Best International Product: Cyprus Delights
Cyprus Delights has been making Loukoumia, a sweet chewy dessert from the village of Yeroskipos, Cyprus, for over 100 years. Their special recipe uses natural ingredients and does not contain gelatin, setting it apart from most jelly treats. Their flavors range from traditional Mint, Orange and Pineapple to exotic Bergamont and Mastic (tree trunk.) Cyprus Delights are beautifully packaged and would be a welcome addition to U.S. specialty food stores.
Best Low Sugar Dessert: Vere Brownies
Vere Goods is a new chocolate maker opening in September 2005. Their goal is to create an “ultra-fresh” line of chocolates, using the finest ingredients and minimal sweeteners to reveal the true essence of chocolate. I had the pleasure of trying their new brownies, which are very moist, dense and satisfying. It still can’t compete with the full sugar versions I’ve had from great chocolatiers like Sans Souci, but for a low sugar variety I was impressed.