July 10, 2008

Newsday, Melville, N.Y., Burning Questions Column

By Erica Marcus, Newsday, Melville, N.Y.

Jul. 10--How was the Fancy Food Show?

I had a lot of fun and I ate a lot of ham.

The Fancy Food Show, held this year from June 29 to July 1 at Manhattan's Javits Convention Center in New York, is the annual trade show of the specialty food industry. "Specialty food" refers to the type of products you may see in some supermarkets, but more often at those exclusive shops that sell what used to be called "gourmet" food.

You've got your cheeses, your hams, your oils and vinegars, your fancy teas and coffees, your exotic salts, your puff-pastry tartlets and hand-crafted chocolates. Booths are manned by the producers of these delicacies (2,400 exhibitors this year), and shop owners and other interested parties troll the 345,000 square feet of exhibition space.

Brand-new companies set up little booths, and grand pavilions are erected by industry behemoths such as Colavita and Walkers Shortbread. Aside from individual producers, countries send delegations. The heaviest international hitter is Italy. Every region of the boot, it seems, is represented by elegantly dressed men drinking espresso and chatting on cell phones as they offhandedly proffer tastes of olive oil, cheese or ham to passersby.

I'm constitutionally wary of new products, believing that it's been going pretty steeply downhill since the invention of the ice-cream cone in 1904. And some of the newer trends -- I'm thinking about bottled water "improved" with all manner of herbs, vitamins, electrolytes and God knows what else -- provide plenty of ammunition for apocalyptic doomsayers.

What I like about the Fancy Food Show is learning about real products from the people who make them.

Reem Rahim, co-founder of Numi Tea, explained to me that Pu-erh tea could be made with black (oxidized) or green (nonoxidized) tea leaves; its salient properties are that it is produced in China's Hunan province from especially large leaves that have been fermented.

The good people of the Spanish importer Fermin treated me to a taste of their Jamon Iberico de Belotta, a ham similar to Italian prosciutto except it is made exclusively from the Iberico breed, free-range black-footed pigs fattened exclusively on acorns.

Not that I shunned Italian prosciutto -- over the course of six hours, I probably consumed a half-pound. And there was that nice Smithfield Ham from Virginia. ...

Write to Erica Marcus, Newsday, 235 Pinelawn Rd. Melville, NY 11747-4250 [email protected]


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