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Stars of the Fancy Food Show

A selection of Mari’s brownies. The company’s caramel sea salt variety won a prestigious Sofi award at the Fancy Food Show. (Mari’s New York)

New York food snobs being who they are, it has become vaguely fashionable to pooh-pooh giant trade shows. The Fancy Food Show with its 140,000 products from 75 countries? Too big and too corporate, said some urban hipsters who organized a rival Unfancy Food Show with dozens of local vendors in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

I disagree. Too big? Maybe. I spent six hours at the show yesterday and never even made it to the floor of French products. But too corporate? Absolutely not. There were hundreds of awe-inspiring jams, teas, chocolates and cheeses from small producers here in New York and far-flung places such as Armenia and Mauritius. Better, unlike that fresh Brooklyn ricotta, many of them are sold in local gourmet stores or available online.

Truthfully, it was hard to know where to start. And so I did what any responsible reporter would do: I started with chocolate. One of my first stops was Mari’s, a brownie company based in New York. Founder Mari Tuttle – the title on her card reads “brownie babe” – bakes dozens of creative varieties such as Thai coffee (think espresso brownies with a sweetened condensed milk topping) and caramel sea salt.

I’m a big fan of any salty caramel, and these brownies deserve a tip of the hat. But it was one of Tuttle’s newer flavors that wowed me: Juniper.

I know. I didn’t think it sounded good either. When I think juniper, I think herbal, medicinal, gin. But Tuttle’s recipe melds juniper berries with other spices, honey and whole-wheat flour. The result is an autumnal, round flavor reminiscent of gingerbread.

Mari’s are not available in the Washington area, but you can order them online. The brownies cost $19 per half-dozen and come in an elegant persimmon-colored box. (Before becoming a brownie babe, Tuttle was a student at Parsons the New School for Design.)

Fat Witch Brownie mixes come in three varieties. (Fat Witch Bakery)

Speaking of brownies, another one of my favorite such companies in New York is the Fat Witch Bakery. Owner Pat Helding was at the show hawking her new brownie mixes. Sold at Whole Foods Markets for around $7.99 per box, they’re pricey. But the three varieties – blondies, white chocolate and original – contain only natural ingredients (read: no chocolate “flavorings”). And with the addition of butter and eggs rather than the oil and water that many brownie mixes call for, the ones I sampled tasted pretty close to the ones Helding sells at her Chelsea Market storefront. (To reproduce Fat Witch brownies more closely, you'll have to wait until spring 2010, when Helding's cookbook is set to be published.)

I could have tasted chocolate all day. But anyone who knows me knows I am a fruit person, so I moved on to jams and chutneys. Two companies caught my eye (and my palate). The first was a line called Les Moulins Mahjour from Tunisia. The preserved lemons, so often salty and bitter when you buy them in a jar, were fresh with a hint of heat. I also loved the Piquant Orange Slices. They were floral with a hint of bitterness, a perfect accompaniment to a creamy goat cheese. (Look for the line in Dean & DeLuca in Georgetown, reps say, and at bakery chain Le Pain Quotodien.)

Harvest Song’s fresh walnut jam is one of the line of Armenian jams and condiments. (Harvest Song)

I also fell in love with Harvest Song's fresh walnuts in syrup, made in the Ararat Valley of Armenia. Walnuts, company president Sylvia Tirakian explained, usually are left to harden on the tree. She picks them fresh, then preserves them in a delicate sugar syrup. They are soft, and you can cut right through what would be the shell. Inside, they look like little gems. A half or several slices pair beautifully with blue cheese (or foie gras). Rumor has it that superstar chef Daniel Boulud is a fan. Sur La Table stores carry the Harvest Song line, or you can buy online from the company itself.

Vervacious's espresso balsamic drizzle. (Vervacious)

Finally, I visited with old friends Heidi and Mark Stanvick. I met the New England couple several years ago when I wrote a story about their efforts to launch a truffle importing business.

Several years on, the business, Vervacious, has changed. After the economy tanked, they couldn't survive dealing in just truffles. So they have expanded into spices, teas and condiments. My favorite was the espresso balsamic. The Stanvicks slowly cook down a blend of balsamics to make it thick and syrupy, then spike it with excellent espresso. The result is a perfect topping for vanilla ice cream or drizzled over a steak served with chunks of gorgonzola. Vervacious's products are available online or at Bedheaders stores in Rockville and Great Falls.

So much more to eat. Stay tuned for more news from the show later today.

--Jane Black

By Jane Black  |  June 30, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Shopping  | Tags: chocolate, jam, shopping  
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Next: San Francisco Company Launches Chocolate 2.0


I've picked up Harvest Song products at Tuesday Morning in the past-will watch for the Walnuts!

Posted by: MPAmom | July 1, 2009 10:14 AM | Report abuse

Loved Harvest Song too. Unfortunately we were too busy sampling all the cheeses to make much progress on the chocolate front, though. Talk about sensory overload!


Posted by: ColleenFoodieTots | July 1, 2009 10:46 AM | Report abuse

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