By Lorrie Baumann
Specialty food producers are reaching back into ancient culinary tradition to elevate the ingredients of home cooking into haute cuisine, and the results of that exploration were all across the show floor at this year’s Winter Fancy Food Show. The show took place in San Francisco’s Moscone Center, a venue in the midst of a substantial reconstruction project that will expand the center’s existing convention space and create a better connection between the North and South Hall to provide more contiguous exhibit space. According to the city of San Francisco, Moscone Center had been losing conventions to other centers around the country that could offer more space, and expanding it to compete for that business is essential to the city’s tourism economy.
Within the exhibit halls, as usual for this show, food producers from across the country and around the world spread their tables with the best food and beverage and the most generous hospitality of their respective cultures for a feast to nourish the soul and the intellect as well as the body. For example, the pimento cheese that’s a food tradition spreading across the country from the American South has three essential ingredients: shredded cheese, mayonnaise and pimento peppers, all stirred together to form a satisfyingly flavorful spread for a sandwich or a party appetizer. Like a lot of authentic Southern cooking, it’s a mixture of flavor and affordability – goooood on a budget. Not necessarily fancy, not usually thought of as “gourmet,” but, in the hands of a talented cook, goooood.
Red Clay Gourmet aims to elevate the traditional pimento cheese by making it both goooood and gourmet, and Founders Lance and Michele Sawyer were at the Winter Fancy Food Show to spread the goodness. Their Gourmet Pimento Cheese is available in five flavors that expand the definition of pimento cheese with flavors that stretch the traditional boundaries without challenging the spirit of adding zesty flavor to cheese, making it spreadable and keeping it Southern. Their Flame Roasted Jalapeño flavor is an example, although they have four other flavors: Classic Sharp Cheddar, Hickory Smoke Cheddar, Goat Cheese & Sun-Dried Tomato and South Meets East – Sriracha. For the Flame Roasted Jalapeño flavor, they roast the jalapenos in house to smooth out their flavor and then mix them into shredded cheddar and smoked Gouda cheese, which adds just a hint of smokiness without heading too far over into chipotle territory, and just enough mayonnaise to make it spreadable. The jalapeño is thoroughly blended into the mixture, so that its flavor is consistent through the spread, the cheese is high-quality and the mayonnaise is a product that’s custom-made for Red Clay Gourmet to ensure that it’s made with cage-free eggs and that it’s non-GMO.
The Sawyers package their Red Clay Gourmet Pimento Cheese spreads into a 10-ounce square container and a 5-pound foodservice container as well as a new single-serve snack package that includes 1.25 ounce of cheese spread plus crackers. They’re producing it themselves in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and they’re both actively involved in the day-to-day production.
Emmi Roth brought an altogether other kind of cheesy tradition to the show with its Tete de Moine, a cheese first made in the 12th century by tonsured monks at the monastery of Bellelay in Switzerland. For a time, the tangy semi-hard cheese made from fresh cow milk was used by tenant farmers to pay the owners of their land, but today it’s being made in 2-pound cylinders in the mountainous area of Jura and exported into the American market by Emmi. It’s properly served from a girolle, in which a sharp blade rotates around a spindle inserted into the cheese to shave off frilly curls that dress up a cheese board. “Tete de Moine” translates to monk’s head, and it’s most likely a reference to this practice of serving the cheese by shaving off the top of its head, just as the monks were once introduced into their order by having the tops of their heads shaved.
Emmi Roth’s Tete de Moine is an AOP cheese made of 100 percent cow milk and aged for 75 days. An Emmi Roth promotion just before the last holiday season met with great response, since the trumpet flower-shaped curls in which it’s traditionally served, in combination with a slightly funky aroma and a memorably tangy flavor with a long finish, make a wonderful holiday presentation.
Like Red Clay Gourmet, V&V Supremo Foods, Inc. is also looking to spread a cheese tradition from one part of America to another. V&V Supremo offers Mexican-style cheese made in Wisconsin. The company is the oldest producer of Hispanic cheeses in the U.S. It’s been making cheeses in Chicago since 1964, but is now making cheese both in that original Chicago plant and in Wisconsin, where there’s an available supply of milk that’s suitable for the needs of these cheeses, according to National Accounts Manager Patrick Jacobo. “It’s all about the milk,” he said.
V&V Supremo’s Oaxaca Cheese is a pasta filata-style cheese, the Mexican version of a mozzarella, with a stringy texture that results from gently stretching the curd as it’s made. It was a World Championship of Cheese winner in 2016.
V&V Supremo’s Chihuahua Cheese was a World Championship of Cheese winner in 2014. Like the Oaxaca cheese, it’s a melting cheese, traditionally used to make quesadillas. Over the past decade or so, it’s selling well in the foodservice market, as Americans have become more interested in using authentic ingredients for their quesadillas, Jacobo said. The product, already popular among chefs, is now available at retail for people to use at home.
Los Pacos is another brand bringing the flavors of Oaxaca to the United States with its mole sauces that represent the height of Oaxacan haute cuisine. The company makes a total of seven artisanal mole sauces that come from one of the top restaurants in Oaxaca. Ingredients for the complex sauces are sourced from organic farmers and local indigenous farmers. Those ingredients may be fried, baked or smoked before they’re brought together with other fresh ingredients and ground in stone grinders several times before they’re slow cooked for hours in copper pots over a low fire. The Los Pacos sauces include Oaxacan Black Mole, which features the flavor of the chilhuacle chile along with more than 30 other ingredients, and Oaxacan Red Chile, which is flavored with more than 20 ingredients whose subtle sweetness is enhanced by chocolate, bananas and almonds. Other varieties include Oaxacan Chichilo Pepper Mole, a bitter mole traditionally served at funerals to symbolize the bitterness of losing a loved one; Oaxacan Yellow Mole, which has a strong herbal taste with cinnamon and garlic notes; and Oaxacan Green Mole, which features the jalapeno pepper along with herbal flavors from epazote, parsley and yerba santa. The Los Pacos mole sauces are sold in 1-pound pouches and jars, with foodservice packaging available on request. Retailers who wish to inquire may contact importer Mariela Oetinger, President of Vaca Jump Brokers. U.S. distribution is from Laredo, Texas, and foodservice packaging is available on request.
The Setton Farms family didn’t have to travel far from their California homes to bring Dark Chocolate Pistachios to the Winter Fancy Food Show. Also, the new Blueberry Coconut Pistachio Chewy Bites extend the line that started with Pistachio + Cranberries Pistachio Chewy Bites. A third flavor, Plum + Lemon Pistachio Chewy Bites, will be coming out this spring. The Dark Chocolate Pistachios are packaged in 5-ounce bags that retail for around $4.99, while the Pistachio Chewy Bites are individually wrapped to sell from a shipper display for about $1 each.
KL Keller Foodways has gone farther afield to bring Yandilla Mustard Seed Oil from the countryside around Wallendbeen, Australia, into the American market for consumers who want bright flavors and high quality. Yandilla Mustard Seed Oil won a 2017 bronze sofi Award and is the only edible mustard seed oil that’s authorized for import into the U.S. under U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations. The Yandilla oil, made by Farmer Vivian Weatherall, is cold pressed in small batches. It has a high smoke point, so it can be used for high heat applications, and it has a spicy bite of flavor that translates into foods fried in it. It’s low in saturated fat.