Finger Limes, Goat Milk Caramels and White Truffle Oil: The 2011 Winter Fancy Food Show

Walking through two pavilions filled with imported and locally produced gourmet food categories there for the sampling is a food lovers dream come true. The exhibitor aisles beckon the visitor with colorful displays, both artful and whimsical, package designs, and the get your salivary glands going tastes of all types of specialty food and beverage.

Food buyers, chefs, food producers, and industry media are there to spot the trends, check out the competition, identify the next big hit for store shelves, and partake in the stimulating synergy of all those businesses in one locale.

Nibbling our way through the show, we are always fascinated by the stories behind up and coming artisan business owners. The stories we love to hear are how new applications are applied to familiar foodstuff and why artisan owners are compelled to leave corporate jobs and get grandma's recipe to market. We also love the "discovery" of ingredients and new products we hope to see in our local markets. Read on for our list of top tastes that tickled our tongue and our imagination from this year's show.

follow the jump for our favorite food tastes from the show

Finger limes look like mini-shrived cucumbers. Originally found in the Australian bush, the trees began to be cultivated domestically and arrived on the California coast about 7 years ago. The pulp inside the finger lime looks and feels like caviar! The taste is an expected astringent lime taste. They pair well with seafood and salad. The fun is the small explosion of tart flavor released biting into the exotic citrus fruit. Available from October thru January from Shanley Farms.

Taste # 5 is the name given to umami, the fifth taste described as savory, and the name of Laura Santtini's umami paste in a tube. Santtini combined Italian flavor ingredients associated with umami; Parmesan, porcini mushroom, anchovy, black olive, balsamic vinegar, and tomato into a paste to be used as a base for sauces, vinaigrettes, spread on meat, or added to pasta and soup dishes. At first, we weren't sure- why not just use a single ingredient to deliver umami to a dish? Second taste and we realized why this paste could be a friend to home cooks in a hurry and an easy way to add some depth to a simple everyday recipe.

Hodo Soy crafts tofu from organic, non- GM soybeans grown on family farms in California. Already we like it. Tasting Fresh Yuba (skin that forms on the top of soymilk as it is heated) and Spicy Yuba Strips was like eating the first piece of an English farmhouse cheddar after only knowing the texture and taste of sliced processed cheese food. Still struggling to enjoy tofu? Hodo will make a convert of you.

Montebello Kitchens began as a Virginia coffee house. Coffee grew to lunch, dressings, sauces and soups were a hit with customers, and a specialty food business was born. Montebello's line of peanut flour based soup mixes include Traditional Virginian, African Piri-Piri, and Thai Curry. We love the story, the package, the low glycemic, high protein, and gluten free contents. Oh, and we loved the soup, which we admit we sampled more than once, just to be sure.

Fortunato No. 4 Dark Chocolate Tumbled Cocoa Beans are made from Pure Nacional cacao beans, a bean thought to be extinct until recently discovered to be growing in a canyon in Peru. Our eyes lit up after placing the chocolate tumbled cocoa bean on our tongue as Moonstruck Chocolatier Julian Rose extolled the qualities of the rare bean. It was the smoothest taste delivered by dark chocolate and honestly ruined us for any other chocolate at the show.

Happygoat creates small batch hand crafted goat milk caramels. We like goat milk in cheese but often find the flavor a bit too strong in other dairy based products. Not so with Happygoat, the caramels have a balanced sweetness, not cloying and not screaming of goat and grass. What wowed us was their Scotch Caramel Sauce, a perfect blend of smooth scotch and goat milk caramel, even if goat isn't your thing, you gotta try this.

A newcomer to the artisan food world, CC Made has entered the confection category with caramel and caramel corn. The caramels come in popular flavors Himalayan Pink Sea Salt, Madagascar Vanilla, and a unique Bitter Sea Salt with the caramel slightly burnt. Every detail of the small batch caramel maker conveys attention to detail; the dainty hand cut caramel, the flavor balance, and the artful packaging and display.

Olli Salumeria is another new business introduced at this year's show. The pork is from heritage bred (Berkshire and Mangalitsa) pigs pasture raised on sustainable family farms in the south and mid-west. Olli Colmignoli, a fourth generation Salumiere overseas the recipes and the curing of Speck, Coppa, Lomo, Pancetta, Guanciale, Lardo and Lardo Spalla. The superior salumi coming from Olli is one of the best arguments for traditional animal husbandry and traditional slow curing techniques.

Oregon White Truffle Oil from The Joel Palmer House offered a pleasant surprise. We discovered Oregon white truffles are not as strong as Italian white truffles, which could have been a disappointment but wasn't. Blended with a light olive oil, the Oregon White Truffle Oil delivers a clean, fruity taste with a hint of truffle flavor and aroma. Jack Czarnecki, restaurateur cookbook author, and forager not only produces the oil but also harvests the truffles himself.

Beverage infusions are moving away from overly sweet artificial ingredients to natural fruit, tea, and floral infused flavors. The Lounging Gourmet Elixer line of floral infusions are blended with pure cane sugar. A former globe trotting corporate type, Nora Egger, owner and alchemist developed the Elixer line in a home kitchen. Her Andean Fire Orchid and Antillean Hibiscus infusions were clean on the palate and make us wish we were a mixologist, for now we will happily slip them into champagne while we infuse them into cream for a little pastry magic.

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Carol Blonder

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