Cookies, Cheese, and a Panda at the Fancy Food Show

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Photo by Corby Kummer

Eleanor and I both visited the opening of the Fancy Food Show, at the Javits Center in New York, on Sunday. It's the trade show for anyone in gourmet food, where seemingly every cracker, sausage, salsa, and chocolate in creation is on display and available for sampling. It's somewhere between a modest trade show and a slick corporate carnival, with an almost complete range of displays from card table to mini-restaurant. I try to go whenever I can, to gauge what the larger food companies are doing (the really big supermarket brands exhibit in Chicago, at McCormick Place, for the Food Marketing Institute's annual trade show, which is as razzle-dazzle as a car show, well, used to be.) The closest I saw to old carnival tactics was a salesperson in a panda outfit handing out samples of licorice.

A typical aisle scene will have, as I saw yesterday, Chewy's rugelach and hamantaschen across from Tang's, which was giving samples of "heat 'n' eat mussels," across from Natural Garden, which featured purple and brightly colored bottles of acai and other exotic fruit drinks. "You shouldn't've eaten breakfast," a woman giving out samples told a convention-goer. She was right. The essential accessory used to be a water bottle--it's hard to eat more salt than at this show--but now water bottles are out of fashion, and there were coolers and cups everywhere.

I hadn't been in a few years, and in a quick tour was surprised by how far small companies I used to have to seek out had come: Nueske's bacon, for instance, a chef's favorite, was scenting the air behind the main entrance--prime real estate--passing out samples of bacon. DiCamillo Bakery in Niagara Falls, New York, and Almondina, of Maumee, Ohio, were opposite each other near the front with big stands--heartening, as I've long championed their quality and first wrote about them when they were further toward the card-table end of the scale.

I always went for the aisles of Italian food, and gravitated there again this year. As with the aisles of other countries, many of the little booths were barely manned, and had a stray pamphlet or two. At dinner at Salumeria Rosi Parmacotto, which I first learned about from our own Zeke Emanuel, the chef, Cesare Casella, who imports his own products (subject for another day soon) confirmed my longtime impression that governmental regions found state money to bring over food producers looking for distributors. "Try going at lunch," he said. "The stands are empty for hours--everybody's out exploring New York."

This year things were sprucer--I had the softest, sweetest cilieghe, tiny balls of mozzarella di bufala, I've ever tasted in or out of Italy, for instance. And I found my favorite chocolate in the world: the hazelnut-enrobed quarter-sized, nubbly baci di Cherasco from the elegant Barbero pastry shop, incredibly fragrant with the world's best hazelnuts. I've written about them in these pages, and they're still looking for a U.S. distributor. So if anyone wants to sell great chocolates--go to booth 2720 by Wednesday afternoon!