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Many, but not all, dedicated eaters know about the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade (NASFT) Fancy Food Show. The summer version, held this year in Washington, DC, drew more than 2,250 exhibitors from all over the world. They showed more than 100,000 products to retailers, wholesalers, journalists, restaurateurs - and to other people whose business is the production and marketing of specialty foods.
And just what are these so-called fancy foods? The fast way I explain them is that they're the sort of foods that you might find at the Ladue Market ot Straub's or The Smokehouse Market, for instance. Laid out before the visitor are things like small-batch barbecue sauce and single origin tea. Hundreds and hundreds of cheeses and olive oils. Snack foods. Artisanal pasta from a dozen regional Italian producers. Almost no alcohol, but several booths with mixers. Exotica like tear-drop shaped sweet Peruvian peppers (below left) and spring rolls with macaroni and cheese filling (below right). The exhibits alone covered the equivalent of four city blocks.
I kept my eye out for exhibitors with local connections, or at least local-ish, like Askinosie Chocolate of Springfield, MO (below). Shawn Askinosie graduated from Mizzou's law school, successfully practiced criminal law and then was bitten by the dessert bug. His bean-to-bar chocolate has won national accolades from magazines like Bon Appétit, and it's as excellent as one would expect. Askinosie, alone in the booth on my drop-by, is a quiet, modest guy who, I found out later, gives a lot back to his community, both in the local and the international sense.
Missouri produces 65% of all wild-harvested black walnuts and the big cheese, or walnut, in the biz is Hammons Products Company of Stockton, MO (SLM's Dave Lowry paid a visit there and chronicled it here). Black walnuts' distinctive flavor and aroma surprises some who try it, but it's an authentically American ingredient that is the taste of Christmas goodies for generations of folks from Texas to South Dakota, especially those who roots are rural or small-town, like me. So it was nice to meet Brian Hammons, the third generation of walnut merchants. They're starting to market black walnut oil, which would be killer, I think, as part of a salad with cheese or drizzled like olive oil on a cream of onion soup. No word on when it'll be appearing here.
The St. Louis presence was Bissinger's, a large display area presided over by a beaming Dave Owens, their chief chocolatier. Their organic options and new, Wine Pairing Chocolates drew plenty of traffic. Besides their stores, those wine-oriented chocolates are available at Edgewild Restaurant & Winery in Chesterfield, by the way. And who knew they had a store in suburban Minneapolis?
Other bits and pieces: Duck is everywhere, not just from the well-known producers like d'Artagnan, but smaller businesses, proffering lots and lots of samples of duck mousse. Maybe raising ducks in back yards is next. Popcorn seems to be coming up the popularity ladder, salted caramel is peaking, butter tastings may be in our futures and small-batch soda in strange and sometimes wonderful flavors looks like a coming thing.
Some of these goodies may be coming soon to a store near you. My Schnucks manager said he was there (not that we saw each other).
Next time, though, I think I'm renting a Segway.