FOOD FETE – FEBRUARY 2014

Several times a year a group of food purveyors gather under the Food Fete banner to present their newest products to assembled journalists. Here is a round-up of notable products I was able to sample at the most recent edition.

Due to their very well frozen state, it took a while to be able to eat the Yasso® Frozen Greek Yogurt Bars [www.yasso.com], but once the one I had, a Dark Chocolate Raspberry variety (a new flavor for 2014), had thawed sufficiently, it was scrumptious. Life-long athletes and childhood friends Amanda Klane and Drew Harrington have crafted their expanding line of frozen Greek yogurt bars – which now includes new flavors Peanut Butter Cup, Mint Chocolate Chip, Chocolate Fudge and Sea Salt Caramel in addition to Blueberry, Strawberry, Raspberry, Coconut, Mango and Vanilla Bean – with an emphasis on healthful snacks which avoid the high fat, sugar and caloric content that is characteristic of all too many frozen yogurt products on the market. Once they perfected their recipe, developed from studies at Penn State’s famed ice cream camp, they brought their treats to store shelves in mid-2011, and these have since become one of the fastest-growing brands in the freezer, now available at more than 14,000 grocery stores nationwide.

Also on hand in the frozen yogurt category with new products for 2014 was Yoplait [www.yoplait.com]; their innovation is to blend granola with Greek frozen yogurt in both strawberry and blueberry flavors, and it’s a fun mixture. What I didn’t know previously is that Yoplait is manufactured and distributed by Wells Enterprises, Inc., a company which was founded in 1913 and headquartered in Le Mars, Iowa – “the Ice Cream Capital of the World” – and which produces more than 1,100 ice cream and frozen novelty products, including Blue Bunny®, the super premium brand 2nd Street Creamery™, the Bomb Pop™ and Weight Watchers® frozen novelties.

For someone like me who has eschewed ever getting a microwave – for health as well as safety reasons – it’s always welcome to see products that allow for fast preparation without having to nuke ’em. Modern Oats [www.modernoats.com] has assembled a variety of flavorful mixtures that become ready-to-eat once you simply add boiling water to the cup containers they are in (the labeling even says “microwaving is not recommended”). Their flavor varieties – which include Apple Walnut, Chocolate Cherry, Goji Blueberry, Mango Blackberry, 5 Berry and Nuts & Seeds – begin with all natural, non-GMO, pesticide-free and certified Gluten-free oats, which are then blended with antioxidant rich super fruits, omega 3 rich nuts, and seeds. With the mildly sweet aspect that the fruits provide, there is no need to add anything but the boiling water to arrive at a tasty breakfast.

For those who take their food so seriously that they wish to grow it themselves, one exhibitor on hand offered multiple means to do so. W. Atlee Burpee & Co. [www.burpee.com] is a name I well remember from my youth, as we were always getting seed packets from them to fashion our own little garden from, and while much of what we grew were asters, zinnias, morning glories and the like, Burpee is also well known for their extensive catalog of food seeds, including many varieties of asparagus, green beans, wax beans, carrots, corn, cucumbers, lettuce, melons, peas, peppers, potatoes, and tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes. (Did I mention tomatoes?) Given the omnipresence and might of corporate agro-behemoths such as Monsanto and Cargill, it’s good to know that there’s still a corner of America where the time-honored tradition of seed cultivation for is own inherent sake – as opposed to rampant profit motives – is maintained with the care it merits. Attendees were gifted two little boxes of rosemary in soil, which was a nice additional seasoning for some roasts I had later in the week.

In keeping with their slogan of “changing the meat we eat”, the newest product from Applegate [www.applegate.com] is a lunch box that will be ready in time for back-to-school – an assemblage including natural, antibiotic-free deli meat with natural crackers and natural fruit snacks. The natural and organic meat, with options of mini pepperoni and ham, provides a good protein anchor for the luncheon medley.

R. W. Knudsen Family® [www.rwknudsenfamily.com] has produced quality juice products since 1961, with a range now numbering more than 125 types of natural and organic fruit and vegetable juices, are made without artificial flavors or colors and never containing added sugar. They’re introducing the Nature’s Peak™ brand of juice blends, which combine various fruits and vegetables (approximately 50-50% of each) in flavorful and healthy combinations. Berry Veggie Blend combines seven juice concentrates, including blackberries, raspberries, sweet potatoes, strawberries, apples, red beets and purple carrots, with other ingredients; Orchard Veggie Blend contains six juice concentrates, including kiwifruit, sweet potatoes, carrots, apples, spinach, pears, with other ingredients (including spirulina and gellan gum); and the Tropical Veggie Blend has juices from five concentrates, including pineapples, mangos, bananas, sweet potatoes and carrots.

When most people think of Seattle and coffee they immediately have in mind a green logo, but there is another option from the Pacific Northwest – Seattle’s Best Coffee [www.seattlesbest.com], branded with a distinctive and contrasting red color scheme. They purvey three categories of blends: the Signature Series, consisting of Signature Blend No. 3, Signature Blend No. 4 and Signature Blend No. 5; the Everyday Blends – a Breakfast Blend and a House Blend; and Flavored Coffees – Very Vanilla and Toasted Hazelnut. The special treat they prepared for Food Fete attendees was the Maple-tini: a cocktail mixture using their Signature Blend No. 4 (a bold, chocolaty variety) with Maple Syrup, Half & Half and Vanilla Stoli Vodka over ice.

Also serving some fine coffee was Life Is Good® [www.lifeisgood.com], a J. M. Smucker [www.jmsmucker.com] brand. Their products contain 100% Arabica beans, are UTZ Certified to promote sustainable farming, are available in 11-ounce bags and 10% of net profits go to children in need. The five varieties include Light Hearted™, a light roast ground coffee; Happy Medium™, a medium roast ground coffee; Dark & Daring™, a dark roast ground coffee; S’more to Love™, a s’more flavored ground coffee; and Banana Bread Bliss™, a banana bread flavored ground coffee.

Usually there is a bar sponsor at Food Fete events, and International Spirits, LLC/Ivanabitch Vodka [www.ivanabitch.com] occupied that space at the tasting. Despite my Slavic roots I am not a vodka drinker; I happen to like the taste of liquor, and have always felt that vodka is generally consumed by people who don’t like the taste of liquor but like its effects – since vodka yields prominence to whatever juices or flavors its blended with, people can feel they’re really drinking something other than liquor while they put a buzz on. Thus Ivanabitch addresses the situation forthrightly – the flavoring(s) and the vodka are blended to begin with. Their flavor varieties include Peach, Red Berry, Vanilla, Whipped Cream, Blackberry, Orange, Lemon, Coconut, Dutch Apple, Cherry, Tobacco and Menthol Tobacco, and the three signature cocktails they presented (Smoke After Sex, with Tobacco Vodka, Grand Marnier, Amaretto Orange Juice and other flavors; Pineapple Upside Down Cocktail, with Whipped Cream Vodka, Pineapple Juice and Club Soda; and Peach Pie, with Peach Vodka, Apple Juice and Triple Sec) were all quite good.

Honest Tea [www.honesttea.com] presented a new organic Summer Refresher line, to be available exclusively in Whole Foods in April, which boast just 70 calories per 8 fl. oz. serving – about one third the calories and sugar of other bottled lemonades. The five new varieties are: Original Lemonade, a classic sweetened with Fair Trade sugar; Mango Lemonade, which uses mango puree; Berry Hibiscus Lemonade, suffused with yumberry, raspberry & brewed hibiscus; Mint Lemonade, flavored with tart limes, sugar and spearmint; and Half & Half Lemonade & Tea, a traditional combination of lemonade & black tea.

A little different from most exhibitors was the new company PeachDish [www.peachdish.com], which is a food subscription business based in Atlanta (hence the peach reference). What they do is deliver to members two dinners a week for a fee of $50 – this includes all the ingredients and instructions needed to craft multi-course dinners for two people. It’s sort of like ordering carry-out except that the catering decision is made by PeachDish while the execution is performed by subscribers; founder Hadi Irvani says that “every week with PeachDish is an adventure.”

Farm Rich [www.farmrich.com] is a purveyor of an expanding variety of items that can be found in the freezer section – “easy appetizers for any occasion,” that are ideal for sports day entertaining, as well as wholesome snacks for busy families on the go; their motto is “real food for real families.” Highlighted at Food Fete were their breaded slices of Crispy Dill Pickles (which offered a nice contrast of crunchy and cool cucumbers within the warm coating), along with Toasted Ravioli (pasta filled with Mozzarella, Parmesan, Asiago and Romano cheeses, also breaded for quick heating and serving), but the range of their products is quite extensive. These include French Toast Sticks, Mushrooms, Marinara Stuffed Mozzarella Sticks, Jalapeno Peppers, Queso Bites and Meatballs of several varieties (including Italian-Style). Available in every Wal-Mart, these snacks are ideal for moms with kids ages 7-17.

One of a number of outstanding cheese manufacturers based in Wisconsin (they don’t call Packers fans ‘cheese-heads’ for nothing), Roth [www.rothcheese.com] presented a line of products in the Germanic traditions apropos to the demographic character of the Badger State. While I had always thought Raclette was a Swiss manner of serving cheese, it is in fact a variety of cheese, one especially suited to melted and heated preparations. The four varieties being sampled were 5 Peppercorn Raclette, Montanella™ Original Raclette, Mediterranean Raclette and Roasted Garlic Raclette; those I tasted were excellent, indeed fulfilling the billing as “the cheese that changes everything,” ideal for “cheese replacement therapy,” and equally suitable for toppings of pizza, burgers and pasta as well as simply being eaten on their own after heating.

Another selection of cheesy delicacies were presented by Horizon® [www.horizondairy.com], purveyors of organic dairy products which satisfy a broad range of consumer needs. More than 600 family farmers produce 93% of the brand’s organic milk, and the latest products featuring these ingredients are a line of six new Horizon Mac & Cheese options. These are: USDA-Certified Organic Mac & Cheese with Shells & White Cheddar, USDA-Certified Organic Mac & Cheese with Macaroni & Mild Cheddar, Organic Horizon Pasta Cows & Mild Cheddar Cheese, Organic Horizon Shells & White Cheddar Cheese, Organic Horizon Macaroni & Mild Cheddar Cheese, and Organic Horizon SuperMac & Cheese (Macaroni & Mild Cheddar); the USDA Organic seal designates at least 95% certified organic ingredients, whereas those made with organic products must contain at least 70% certified organic ingredients. All are made with non-GMO ingredients.

Cascadian Farm [www.CascadianFarm.com] is located in the foothills of the North Cascade Mountains, and since 1972 has been producing mostly fresh blueberries as well as organic strawberries, raspberries, kiwis, peppers, corn and pumpkins – all of which are sold at the farm. All Cascadian products bear the USDA organic seal and are made without GMO ingredients, and their more than 75 products include cereals, granola bars, frozen fruit, frozen vegetables, frozen potatoes, fruit spreads, juice concentrates and relish. At Food Fete they unveiled new chewy granola bars with organic pea protein (9 grams per serving) – an ideal source of protein, derived from plants, for those seeking alternative sources of protein – and in two flavor varieties: Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip and Honey Roasted Nut.

Out of Boulder, Colorado, Rudi’s Organic Bakery® & Rudi’s Gluten-Free Bakery [www.rudisbakery.com] has been dedicated to making nutritious, flavorful and preservative-free baked goods since 1976, without any modified starches, gums or trans-fats or high fructose corn syrup. Today the leading producer of certified organic bread in the US – and since 1981 with all of their product line certified Kosher – Rudi’s recently announced several new products, including Organic White English Muffins (the first nationally available product of its kind), Organic Pretzel Rolls, Cherry Almond Bars, Ciabatta Rolls, Deli Style Sandwich Bread, Double Fiber Sandwich Bread and Savory Herb Stuffing, all of which are gluten-free.

Baked goods perhaps more familiar to general consumers – and particularly for those who like to do baking at home – were represented by Duncan Hines® [www.duncanhines.com], who displayed some interesting specialties. One line is called Duncan Hines Decadent, and it includes Red Velvet Cupcakes, Strawberry Cheesecake Cupcakes, Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes, and Apple Caramel Cake, among others, and the new variety they were sampling was the Salted Caramel Brownie Mix – truly a great blending of sweet, salty and creamy ingredients. The Duncan Hines Velvets line includes the other two products that were being sampled – a Signature Pink Velvet Cake Mix, and a Signature Blue Velvet Cake Mix which was as eye-opening as it was tasty; imagine that period in the 1990s when any new sports expansion team had to use teal in their color scheme and you get the idea as to the hue of this cake mix.

Food Should Taste Good® [www.foodshouldtastegood.com] is not only the name of a company, it is a philosophy and an expression of common sense as well.  Founded by Pete Lescoe in 2006 on the principle of creating unique-flavored, high-quality and wholesome tortilla chips, FSTG has since accordingly continued to expand their line of flavor varieties, which now number over 20. With ingredients including cilantro, avocado and serrano peppers, their newest flavor of Guacamole may even make some people skip the dip itself altogether – though if you do have some guacamole to dip these in the chips serve as an ample force-multiplier of taste. Whenever I feel I get some sort of cold or flu bug my remedy of choice is to go to a Korean restaurant and order a burning bowl of chigae, so I was very interested in the Kimchi variety of tortilla chips that FSTG is now bringing to market; with ingredients including Dried Cabbage, Onion, Garlic and Red Bell Peppers, these too are distinctive snacking options.  All FTSG products are made with zero trans fats, no cholesterol and are certified gluten-free and Kosher, with many of the varieties (which include Sweet Potato, Blue Corn, Olive, Lime, Kettle Corn, Cheddar and Jalapeno) certified vegan.  Two new product lines were also presented: Pita Puffs, which come in flavors including Pesto, Chive, Cinnamon and Sugar, and Multigrain (available in March); and Brown Rice Crackers (available in June), which will feature flavors such as Roasted Red Pepper, Tomato & Basil, Peppercorn Blend and Sea Salt.  Something to look forward to.

Given the increasing Mexican influence in American culture and cuisine, there are a number of firms specializing in tortilla chips, and another that was on hand was Late July Organic Snacks [www.LateJuly.com]. Their chips are light, thin and crispy, “cut a bit bigger to hold more dip” and Certified USDA Organic, non-GMO and gluten-free. Late July has added different and healthful grains to some varieties, such as Chia and Quinoa, and have a good selection of flavored chips, with ingredients including green chilies, lime, sour cream, jalapeno peppers, whole grains, seeds and a number of spices.