San Francisco Chronicle

San Francisco Chronicle

Food show glimpses the future — and it’s not fat-free


The crystal ball predicting our gustatory future, a.k.a. the Winter Fancy Food Show, rolled into Moscone Center for three days early this week.


And if this 28th annual for-the-trade-only show, staged by the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade, is an indicator, the downturn in the economy has not dampened our appetite for new foods, whether they are produced in Northern California or are imported from the four corners of the earth.


Many of these products are just making it into stores now, or may become available in the next few months.


The new austerity showed few signs of life, either in terms of price or caloric content. Galaxy, the San Rafael maker of picture-perfect single- serving desserts (sold in upscale groceries, Neiman-Marcus and the like), does acknowledge leaner budgets by introducing Forever Mousse cakes (pictured above) in four flavors, with a $2.98 retail price ($1 less than most of the line). However, cost-cutting doesn’t apply to the huge category of alternative soft drinks based on fruit juices (Switch, Le Village’s new sparkling cider) or tea (Swiss T green tea beverage; Steap, an organic green tea turned into fizzy sodas, or Honest Tea’s minimally sweetened organic Green Dragon Tea and Peach Oo-La-Long, among them). To a drop, these are more costly than conventional soft drinks.


From the looks of the show, food producers may be thinking that consumers are done with low-fat foods. While there were the requisite number of fat-free salad dressings (Consorzio of Napa is a local leader), rich charcuterie and sumptuous cheeses were everywhere.
One of the most popular booths was manned by Cheese Works Ltd. of Berkeley, a distributor of specialty cheeses, prosciutto, olive oils and related items, and buyers couldn’t seem to get enough of them.


Sauces ‘n Love, from an “American girl marries Italian boy who can cook” company based in Massachusetts. The line of refrigerated pasta sauces and pestos, new to Northern California stores, features very good Sugo Rosa, a creamy tomato sauce in a microwaveable 16- ounce jar. Another highlight: a bright, well-balanced 4.5-ounce jar of mint pesto, good for topping grilled or roasted meat or fish. Both products retail for $5.99-$6.99 at places like Rainbow Grocery and Say Cheese in San Francisco, and Andronico’s and Whole Foods throughout the Bay Area.


Various hams, pates and sausages had show-goers nibbling furiously at the many European trade pavilions. But there was also a lot of good domestic product. Neshama Gourmet Kosher Foods, a new company from Southern California, offered a juicy chicken-turkey breakfast sausage sweetened with apple juice and cranberries, and two flavors of mergez, a North African sausage. Neshama may be in the forefront of a trend. The number of foods that are certified kosher has increased dramatically in the last few years. This year, there was even a designated kosher area at the show, albeit a small one.


As for other discernible trends: Some of the poster children of the gourmet deluge of the ’90s have asserted a permanent place in our kitchens. The Italian pavilion had enough truffles and truffle products to bankrupt Bill Gates. Manicaretti Italian Food Imports of Oakland was tempting buyers with top-drawer olive oils produced from Chianti to Sicily, and exquisite Acetaia Leonardi balsamic vinegars from Modena — think 12-year-old vinegar aged in cherry wood or juniper barrels, or one infused with truffles. A perfume-sized bottle (about 15 ml) will set the consumer back about $100.


On a less exalted level, Consorzio has an unctuous balsamic dressing with strawberries, which have emerged as the berry du jour. There were several strawberry drinks, and Timber Crest of Healdsburg scored a hit with dried strawberries for snacking or incorporating in muffins or pancakes.


More trends: Tea is hot. And cold. The number of green tea products continues to grow, and white tea is the new big thing. Organic, fair trade and chai teas are huge.
Oakland’s Numi brand, creation of the sister-and-brother team of Reem and Ahmed Rahim, plans to take its whole line organic by March. Numi introduced eight certified organic teas, including Monkey King Jasmine Green and hand- rolled Temple of Heaven Gunpowder Green. New marketing touches: bamboo boxes and bins, for tea bags or loose tea.


Products aimed at kids were prevalent. Annie’s Naturals (which moved from Marin County to Vermont) has three new salad dressings — fruit-flavored Tutti Fruitti, Organic Pizza Pie with Parmesan cheese, and Organic Zoom with sesame seeds and honey.


Newsworthy items by local producers included:


— A kicky ratatouille from San Francisco’s Restaurant LuLu. Look for it in LuLu’s signature 6-ounce square jars in stores within the next couple of months for around $11.


— Organic super-premium ice cream from Straus Family Creamery. The Marin organic dairy will start with three flavors — vanilla bean, chocolate and raspberry. The ice creams are made without preservatives or emulsifiers, which means that mouth feel may be less creamy than other ice creams. They’re expected in stores by summer, with 1-pint cartons selling for around $3.59.


— Ft. Bragg jelly maven Carol Hall’s intriguing plum pomegranate pepper jelly.


— Tea oil, a staple in China for centuries, imported by Marin’s Republic of Tea. Its high smoke point makes it good for cooking.


— Catch-Up, a red pepper condiment from Napa Valley’s Tulocay’s, is the latest from a company that also introduced wasabi-flavored cocktail sauce.


— Sizzlers from San Jose sausage-maker Silva, flat 4-inch rounds of sausage in many flavors, are easy to pan fry and eat. They’ll hit the market next month, selling for $3.49 a pound, the same price per pound as the company’s links.


— Native Kjalii, the San Leandro maker of fresh salsas, has a new line called Pueblo Grande, which stays fresh longer in stores and at home. There’s Mango Chipotle salsa along with Verde, Diablo and guacamole. Also new is hummus in four varieties.


— Saveur of Saratoga jumped on the chipotle bandwagon (which is still gaining speed) with Maple, Pecan, Chipotle Marinade that tames the peppers’ heat enough to allow the other flavors to come through.


This article appeared on page FD – 2 of the San Francisco Chronicle

by Karola Saekel, Carol Ness, Miriam Morgan
San Francisco Chronicle Newspaper