For more summers than I care to name I have attended the Fancy Food Show, scouring the aisles for great new finds and emerging trends in the world of specialty foods and beverages. The show, mounted by the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade (www.specialtyfood.com), covers everything from chocolate, artisanal meats and cheeses, confections, snacks, beverages, salsas, spices, and natural, gluten-free, and organic products.
This year was no different, except that for the second year in a row the show was held in Washington, DC, instead of New York’s Javits Center, which is undergoing a facelift. Among the show’s 2,200 exhibitors — hailing from 80 countries and regions and displaying about 180,000 products — were several businesses from the greater Princeton area.
One veterans of the Fancy Food Show is Muirhead of Ringoes (www.muirheadfoods.com). This year, Barbara Simpson introduced her company’s Spiced Apple Butter, the latest in its line of fruit butters, chutneys, jellies, mustards, dressings, and cooking sauces. Simpson has taken over the management of the company, founded by her parents Ed (deceased) and Doris as an outgrowth their popular Hunterdon County restaurant of the 1970s.
As she doled out tastes, Barbara Simpson proudly told visitors that the new apple butter is made with no added sugar. I like that it is not as cloyingly sweet as some others of its kind and that it sports a denser, less watery texture. Simpson expects the spiced apple butter to be available stating September 1. It will be available online, and since Bon Appetit Fine in Foods in Princeton Shopping Center carries other Muirhead fruit butters, Simpson says she hopes they will carry the new flavor as well.
I do not personally need to seek out low-sugar or sugar-free products, but the estimated 25.8 million diabetics in this country must. For those among them who like chocolate bars, the only alternatives up until now were those made with artificial sweeteners, which are made up of sugar alcohols like sorbitol and maltilol. For many people, these have been shown to cause severe gastric distress, not to mention an “off” taste. But one Central New Jersey chocolate company, Coco Polo of Highland Park (www.cocopolo.com), changed that when they introduced their line of bars made with the natural sweetener stevia.
Their proprietary formula and method results in dark and milk-chocolate bars that are gluten free and without GMOs (genetically modified organisms). More importantly, from my point of view, they actually taste delicious. John Cunnell of Coco Polo admits that “There’s a method the industry has used with stevia as a sweetener that’s given stevia a bad name” when it comes to taste. Coco Polo, he says, found a new way to “harness stevia’s remarkable flavor profiles.”
Diane Yamate is the founder and dynamic force behind Coco Polo, which shares space and facilities with Birnn Chocolates, the longtime candy makers on Cleveland Avenue in Highland Park. Originally from Northern California, Yamate started out in 1996 looking for chocolate alternatives for her father, who is diabetic. Eventually, she met a grower of stevia on Oahu but had to wait until December, 2010, for its use to become legal in the U.S. Meanwhile, she researched how to eliminate the taste of stevia. Coco Polo chocolates can be found at many health food stores and markets and online at Amazon and www.cocopolo.com.
Two local companies — both small, mom-and-pop makers of specialty condiments that you may have encountered at area farmers’ markets — were among the first-time exhibitors at this year’s show. Though Deboleena Dutta, founder and CEO of Princeton’s HerbNZest (www.herbnzest.com) may have been a newbie, she aptly demonstrated her business acumen by drawing influential food bloggers and specialty food retailers to her booth. She did this by providing slick recipe cards to go along with tastings of her company’s innovative artisanal products, which include chive tomato relish, chipotle cranberry orange relish, and fennel saffron pumpkin butter.
“I’m trying to show that our products are not just healthier — all natural and not high in salt or sugar — but that you can actually taste the fruit,” said Dutta, who has an MBA from Wharton and worked in finance for 10 years. “And also that we’re having fun cooking with them,” she added. “You don’t have to use them just as dips.” Perhaps the most unexpectedly successful use of her condiments was a deliciously refreshing iced tea made with her basil peach raisin chutney.
The other first-timer was First Field, whose Original Jersey Ketchup can be found at, among other places, Whole Foods, the Whole Earth Center, and the Pennington Market, as well as farmers’ markets and online at www.first-field.com. I first profiled Patrick Leger and Theresa Viggiano, founders of the Griggstown-based company in US 1 in July, 2010. Since that time they have married and traveled to DC for the Fancy Food Show toting not only their ketchup, but also their first child, Clarence, who was just three weeks old.
First Field featured not only the Original — made with local tomatoes and given the Jersey Fresh label — but also tiny jars suitable for inclusion in gift baskets and, at the other end of the spectrum, half-gallon size First Field Four Season Ketchup, which can be found at a rapidly expanding number of restaurants in the tri-state area.
Of course, not all my favorite stops were at the booths of locals. I was impressed by Stonewall Kitchen’s cinnamon sugar doughnut mix, which was awarded the show’s gold prize as Best Baked Good, Baking Ingredient, or Cereal. I was happy to make the acquaintance of Joe Bellavance, whose Average Joe Artisan Bread kit (www.breadkit.com) allows home bakers to produce professional loaves.
Speaking of gold medalists, I was particularly pleased that one of my top picks from last year’s show was named Best Food Gift. It’s the Grow-Your-Own-Mushroom kit from www.backtotheroots.com, which I recommended in my annual Gifts for Foodies column in this space last November. The kit allows you to grow up to a pound and a half of pearl oyster mushrooms indoors directly out of a brown cardboard box in about 10 days.
Lastly, all you fans of Ciao Bella gelato, ice cream, and sorbet — which are available just about everywhere, including Whole Foods and Target — be on the lookout for their new line of frozen Greek yogurt called Adonia. In a word, it’s irresistible. Kind of like my annual trek to the Fancy Food Show.
Follow Pat Tanner’s blog at www.dinewithpat.com.