Story and photos by Manos Angelakis
Casas d Hualdo and Intercomm Foods images courtesy of the producers
2023 Summer Fancy Food Show
This year’s Summer Fancy Food Show was humongous, the largest iteration of the show I had ever seen and there were booths jammed in every available nook and cranny of the Jacob Javits Center.
There were many national pavilions; most countries around the Mediterranean, South America and a number of Asian countries had national group exhibits under a common theme. There were also a lot of large independent importers, producers and other exhibitors that I had not seen in previous years. US producers were represented both in State pavilions, where practically every state was represented, and at the independent producer area.
This year there were also specific product pavilions, like the cheese pavilion and the confectionary pavilion, that were introduced in last year’s iteration of the show. Usually, many of these exhibitors would present products only within the national pavilion of the area where the production facilities are located but this year a number of the larger exhibitors were represented with 2 or even 3 booths, one in the national pavilion area, another in the specialty pavilion and a third in the booth of their US importer.
Every continent and practically every country was there!
Unfortunately, I had only one day to devote to the show. Normally, I would do all three days, but this year I had a wine lunch scheduled for the third day and had to meet with one of the editors of the publications that now print my articles on the first day. So I tried to jam as much into the day as I could! I was being inundated with emails from show participants to go and see their booths and I did as much as I could, but could not visit everyone.
The olive oil market must be growing exponentially in the US because I saw more producers exhibiting than at any other year. Virgin… extra virgin… extra, extra virgin… pomace oil… any kind of olive oil used in a kitchen was there. The Mediterranean countries had obviously the most olive oil exhibitors with Greece, Turkey, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Morocco and Tunisia at the forefront.
Another product with ubiquitous presence was tomatoes. Canned, jarred, sauces, sundried, dehydrated… every type of tomato used in cooking was represented with multiple producers. Italy, Greece, Turkey and Morocco had the largest concentration of tomato product exhibitors.
With the exception of Marky’s and Petrossian there was little caviar shown and it was mostly from farmed fish, not wild caught!
With the retail price of average quality wild caught Ossetra at a minimum $850 per kilo (2.2 lb), there were institutional buyers for restaurants and catering companies, but not many individual buyers. Prices were high. Wild caught Beluga caviar was between $5,000 and $10,000 per kilo; the Special Reserve Kaluga from Petrossian was $16,000 a kilo. Most of the caviar available in the U.S. comes from farmed fish -- Florida in the United States, China, Italy, Germany and Israel are some of the largest producers. Farmed and wild caught salmon caviar and a variety of other fish eggs from European, Asian and South American fisheries were quite available and at much better prices.
All the expected cheese producing areas had multiple exhibits, including ersatz cheese made from plants that, unfortunately, tasted to me like processed sawdust. Best cheeses I tasted were from France, Italy and Spain, as expected, and from Switzerland, Portugal and Austria.
Special cheeses like feta, a white semi-soft brine preserved cheese, was available in most Mediterranean country stands, but the best was still Valbreso, a sheep milk cheese from France that was buttery, tangy and with a mildly salty taste. The Valbreso feta is imported by the Lactalis Americn Group of cheese products and can be found in many ethnic markets, including, surprisingly, an Indian market near me. It is creamy and tangy! The 600 gr. tin is also available at my local farmer’s market that is geared mostly towards the South American community in the area. Unfortunately, the retail price has recently jumped from $11.99 a tin to $16.99 per tin. And the Greek, Bulgarian and Turkish feta that I grew up with, is now a mostly defatted product that tastes dry and extremely salty.
There were many producers this year trying to sell vegetable-based foods masquerading for meat, fish or dairy; I don’t know who buys this stuff but they must have dead taste buds because none of these products I sampled tasted like anything I wanted near my mouth I’m sorry to say.
Casas d Hualdo, a cold extracted extra virgin olive oil from Toledo, is best when used in salads and as finishing oil for vegetable dishes. It comes bottled at 4 monovarietal versions.
This exporter is also famous for their cheeses and they showed some very tasty Manchegos.
From Morocco I tasted the Noor Fès line of monovarietal Olive Oils from Picholine olives in the desert region (Fès). Exceptional, especially good for salads. Another Moroccan producer from Safi whose oil I thought was very good, was Gardam.
All the olive oil exhibitors had fresh, extra virgin oil with a fruity and peppery flavor, the way high quality olive oil is supposed to taste.
There were many preserved meat products like Prosciutto and Jamón Iberico, boiled canned hams plus all kinds of sausages.
And lots of fresh farmed fish from Greece, Spain, Turkey and Chile. They fly fresh fish and/or seafood into the US and you will find most of their output both in supermarkets and restaurant kitchens. Of note were:
O Percebeiro from Galicia that showed fish (Jon Dory, Bream and Turbot), crustaceans and bivalves at the stand. Σaω (Sao), from Patras in Greece, showed fresh branzino and gilthead bream
Tomato products like pasta sauces, condensed paste, whole tomatoes in tomato purée etc. were very evident as noted above. Tukas, showed a good variety of pasta and pizza sauces plus, what I consider an exceptional hot pepper sauce. Another producer from Turkey was Spesya, showing a nice line of pickles (turşu), green and black olives, roasted eggplant (Patlican), stuffed vine leaves (yaprak dolma) and sauces.
Intercomm Foods from Greece, under the Delphi brand, showed an extensive line of pickled olives in glass jars, large tins and plastic tubs that included Green Halkidiki olives from Northern Greece, black (actually deep to very deep purple) Kalamata olives from the Southern Peloponnese, and Conservolea Olives from Central Greece. All preserved in brine. They also showed fruits in a jar and compotes (peaches and apricots) as well as tinned peaches and apricots in syrup.
Another very good preserved olive line was from Tukas. They showed a wide variety of prepared olives including whole green olives, Andaluz-style green olives, green olives with fennel, pitted green olives with garlic, spicy green olives stuffed with pimento, black dry olives (they call them Greek-style but in reality they are Italian Gaeta style) etc. Very good product in an assortment of sizes.
This year there were many producers of jams, preserves and spoon sweets in the show. A spoon sweet is a welcome offer when visiting a traditional home in Greece, Turkey and many of the Arabic cultures in the Eastern Mediterranean. Actually, in Greece and Turkey there are elaborate silver bowls and spoon-holders used when offering spoon-sweets to guests in those traditional households. Two producers from Turkey; Metin with exceptional apricot, peach, green orange as well as sour cherry (vişne reçeli) and Tukas -- vişne reçeli, peach and quince; and Klonis from Greece had the best tasting preserves.
There were few Locum, the favorite of mine Turkish Delight in the show. Normally there is a number in the Turkish pavillion, but in this show I found only one, Zeida Gida, that also produces nice tahini halva at the confectionary pavillion. Their locum was very good, almost as good as the legendary Haci Bekir.
Foods and Wines from Spain had a presentation on one of the stages that featured two chefs, Antonio Ortuño and Varin Keokitvon (of Seattle Culinary Academy) that created their version of aperitifs featuring canned fish (sardines and eel) and seafood - mussels and squid, and I attended the event.
However, with all due respect, I don’t think that any of those aperitifs (I would consider them tapas) would be successful if presented at a bar in Spain. The main reason… tapas are supposed to be little cooked tidbits or cheese or sausage over a piece of bread with a high salt content that when eaten would induce thirst therefore more wine consumption. 5 of the 6 samples were just too sweet, one used a pepper jam and the ones with sun-dried tomatoes were not salty enough. They were disappointing. They should have had some of the Spanish chefs that now have restaurants and bars in New York City doing the honors!
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