I was a Fancy Food Show virgin. And I wasn’t well prepared. Had only a couple of hours on the last day to do a quick spin through the halls, with a vague notion of sampling whatever took my fancy and then diligently reporting back from the field about hot, new finds.
I failed miserably, mostly due to information and food overload. A few themes emerged. Natural, gluten-free goods out in force. Cheese and chocolate rule. Gussied up, grown-up snacks all the rage.
Sponsored by the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade, a non-profit trade association, the Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco’s Moscone Center is a massive marketplace showcasing niche food products. And, yes, we’re talking processed food here, folks.
And large as in 184,00 square feet, 1,300 exhibitors, and 17,000 attendees from 30 countries. It’s like throwing a Specialty Foods Olympics.
My far-from-thorough list of intriguing offerings, not necessarily hot or new. Blue cheese from Rogue Creamery, including the rugged sounding Rogue River and Cave Man, Pan Forte Crostini from Rustic Bakery (good with all that cheese), and Secret Stash Sea Salts, with flavors like Almond Cardamon and Bloody Mary.
On the sweet side: Granola from The Bunnery made by a French family in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Happy Goat caramels, made locally with, yep, goat milk, and handmade Belgian chocolates by Rogue Confections (These vintage inspired rounds are almost too beautiful to eat, don’t you think? Almost.)
And to drink: Belvoir‘s elegant, English, elderflower presse.
Some people love trade shows. Me, not so much. What won me over at this event? The international array of people along with their international array of products.
The Italian cheesemakers were adorable with their divine cheeses wrapped exquisitely in grape leaves.
The down-to-earth Aussies gave me good-natured grief, including one who sells quite lovely lemony, gluten-free cookies for the Byron Bay Cookie Company, and another from The Tasmanian Honey Company, who imports honey that tastes and smells like home.
No surprise, the Peruvians serving pisco sours from La Mar knew how to throw a party. And the European women exhibited European chic.
Here’s what else I learned on my maiden voyage:
2. You can, indeed, eat too much cheese and chocolate. (Brought to mind that Monty Python skit: ‘Where’s my bucket?”)
3. It’s a trip to go beyond the Berkeley locavore bubble and explore a whole wide world of wonderful food out there, even if we mostly source it close to home.
4. In the end, it’s the people and their pride and passion for what they produce or peddle that you remember, as much as their product.
5. Next year: Be prepared. Have a game plan. Don’t try to taste it all at once — or at least not in two hours.