Putting aside the bright advertisement, and fanfare surrounding the products at the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco a few weeks ago, I went about sampling and rating what I consider the top five products from the Spanish and Portuguese-speaking exhibitors. I was especially impressed by the Andean region and Spain, whose products seem to be not only exquisitely delicious but have a certain honesty about them because of the integrity of the processes involved in making the product. The first three categories deserve an elaborate description.
1. A tie between Cortijo de Suerte Alta Olive Oil and Fermín Spanish Iberian ham from Spain. Olive Oil by Cortijo de Suerte Alta is from the Córdoba region of Spain. In the last few months, my friend and fine food connoisseur, Rene Klaasen, from Gourmets on Wheels (whose items sell at local Los Angeles farmers markets and who hopes to start selling the olive oil soon), has educated me in selecting fine olive oils. After tasting this olive oil at this exhibition, he stated, “We are now ruined for all other oils! How can we go back?” Sure enough! These extra virgin olive oils are truly some of the finest among olive oils! These rich, grassy, deep green olive oils come from the Baena estates, whose present day proprietor, Manuel Heredia Halcón, was present at the show. He informed me that the Marqués de Prado estates have been in his family since the 14th century. In the 1920’s his grandparents started producing olive oil and currently, the family still runs the business as an organic farm and uses the most sustainable practices in the production of these fine oils. Without a doubt they create a very high quality, artisanal product that did not have an equal at the convention. Your palette, literally, takes a journey when you taste this fine olive oil. (www.suertealta.es).
Ferín Jamón Ibérico from Spain. If heaven were a kitchen, it would have “jamones ibéricos” dangling from the ceiling! What a fine, delicate and yet rustic slice of ham! I wanted to sit down and have the exhibitor feed me some more, but, of course, I had to show some restraint. This highly marbled ham comes from the last of the grazing pigs in Europe, the Iberian pig, which is raised in the western part of Spain, and is the only free-ranging pig in Europe whose diet is mainly “bellota” (acorn) and wild herbs. Ann Sayre, the director of sales at Wagshal’s of Washington D.C., who is the exclusive importer of the ham, explained the process behind the product. Important factors in producing this fine ham include having the right ratio pigs to acorn trees and having a constant nearby water source. The process is highly regulated by the Spanish government, who determines the category under which pork meat from a particular pig will fall under. Nature and culture must work together to create the balance needed to produce this very fine product. This product will also be made available by Gourmets on Wheels, who also sells fine olive oils and charcuterie in the Los Angeles area.
2. Luker Chocolates from Colombia. I was very impressed by these chocolatiers and believe me, how one competes in this already saturated market, I do not know! These Colombian chocolatiers stood out because of the integrity of their product. The chocolate rounds they gave out were not mixed with anything, allowing us to judge the purity of the chocolate. Since the regions from which the cacao pods come all have different soils, the chocolates have different tastes, which ranged from smooth and mild to bitter with tones of citrus. I tasted 3 different types of chocolates, two of which contained the same 65% cacao content, and they were so dramatically different. All were exquisite! Theses chocolatiers already export to Europe and Russia and are looking to widen their market by importing to the U.S. Another dimension of Luker is their dedication to sustainable labor and environmental practices. The “Luker process”, for example, includes helping farmers diversify their fields to help avoid monoculture*. (http://lukeringredients.com/)
*Monoculture is the agricultural practice common to industrial agriculture of cultivating a single crop for a long period of time. It creates a precarious situation for farmers since their economic well-being is based on only one crop; in addition, it tends to facilitate plagues, and therefore promotes the use of herbicides and pesticides, which, in turn, lead to soil erosion.
3. Don Joaquín hot sauces and jams from Ecuador. I thought these products had a lovely twist to two old favorites: hot sauces and jams. For all of you hot-sauce lovers you may soon be able to buy –that is, if Don Joaquín finds himself a distributor out there– hot pepper sauce with pineapple, passion fruit, naranjilla, or strawberry to kick up your meal with a dash of spicy sweet sauce. Excellent for burgers, tacos, and all kinds of meat, especially pork! This line also carried a caramel sauce with pieces of coconut, banana jams with passion fruit, and pineapple jam, all of which could work nicely as spreads on a slice of bread or as a pastry filling. I found Don Joaquín’s products unique and very delicious! (http://donjoaquingourmet.com/)
4. Hernán Mexican hot chocolate from Del Río, Texas. Isela Hernández built Hernán LLC in 2007 hoping to promote healthy business practices along the “fontera” in her native Del Río, Texas. Their display had a Maya motif and was one of the most beautiful at the convention! They also sell hand-molded “bolitas de chocolate” (chocolate balls), chocolate tablets, and hot chocolate powder. (http://hernanllc.com/)
5. Aukas Salts, Rubs, and Pepper Mixes from Chile. Aukas sells unique mixes such as crystal salts with roasted Chilean hazelnuts and smoked red chilies, and salts with seaweed. These products are all free of MSG. (http://www.aukas.cl/index1.php?)
We at LatinoFoodie hope this first visit to the Fancy Food Show will establish what will eventually be a tradition! Next year’s Fancy Food Show will take place January 19-21, 2014, so until then, look for these new products as time will tell whether they will be mere trends or substantial enough to shape our palettes for the coming years. ¡Buen Provecho!
**I’d like to thank Michael Arturo, who scouted the convention floor for the most interesting exhibitors and products and set me up for a few interviews. He also took all the photographs so I could focus on sampling and interviewing. I’d also like to thank Rene Klaasen from Gourmet on Wheels in Los Angeles for continuing to educate me in the field of the specialty food industry.