Wednesday, March 21, 2012

New England Food Show: Favorite Finds

From Sweet Potato Biscuits to Rum, the pleasures of local businesses.

The New England Food Show took place at the same time and location as the International Boston Seafood Show and though I devoted plenty of time to the seafood show, I made some time to check out the exhibit booths at the NE Food Show. This was a trade show, much of it devoted to the food services industry, and you could find everything from water dispensers to flatware, from cutlery to signage. In addition, there were numerous food products, often with samples, from hot dogs to donuts, as well as alcoholic beverages, including beer, wine and spirits.

There are three food products that I want to highlight, those which made the greatestest impression on me. In addition, I will showcase four producers of alcohol, from hard cider to rum, and most of them are local producers as well. I will be following up on a few of these items, for additional information and further tastings, so you may read about them, in greater detail, at a future date.

Killer Sweet Potato Biscuits! Gagne Foods, located in Bath, Maine, had its start about thirty years ago when Chef Michael Gagne created his special Cream Cheese Biscuits. The biscuits were first sold in his restaurant and later expanded to being sold in various other venues in Maine. When the demand for the biscuits out grew their production capability, they created a larger manufacturing facility. Their biscuits can now be found in some bakeries and artisan food shops as well as in the refrigerated section of various supermarkets. As an average price, you can a package of four fresh biscuits at a bakery for $4.49 or a box of  six frozen biscuits at a supermarket for $4.99.

They produce a line of baked goods, including several types of biscuits. The original Cream Cheese Biscuit uses cream cheese and butter rather than shortening. You can also find Sweet Potato Biscuits, Cheddar Chive Biscuits, Buttermilk Biscuits and Herb Parmesan Biscuits. The Sweet Potato Biscuit thoroughly impressed me, with its soft, multi-layered biscuit and prominent sweet potato taste. A nice blend of flavors, an excellent texture, and very addictive. I actually visited their booth each of the three days just to have more of the sweet potato biscuits. Their Chocolate Brownie Biscuit was also very tasty, with a rich chocolaty flavor and moist texture.

I am very picky about my Cinnamon Rolls, with my Mom's cinnamon rolls serving as the standard for all others. I have to say that these did very well, with plenty of cinnamon and a soft pastry with hints of crispness. Far too many lack sufficient cinnamon, or the pastry is too tough and hard. These satisfied me and are worthy of my recommendation.

Kettle Cuisine, located in Chelsea, Massachusetts, was founded in 1986 and produces a full line of soups, at least over 50 varieties. They sell their soups to restaurants and other food services, as well as selling some at supermarkets. These are all natural soups and they produce all of their own stocks. A number of the soups are vegetarian, dairy free, gluten free or low fat. It appears that ten of their soups are currently available in single serving sizes at local supermarkets. I tried several of their soups, such as New England Clam Chowder and Chicken Tortellini Soup. Both were very flavorful, and the chowder was an excellent consistency, neither too thick or thin. I would have ordered either of these two soups at a restaurant.

My favorite of their soups was the Coconut Curry Chicken Soup, a tasty and well balanced soup with a rich coconut flavor and a mildly spicy kick. This soup is both dairy and gluten free, and I would have loved a huge bowl with some naan bread.

For a healthier snack, you might want to consider Mini Pops, air popped sorghum grains. The company launched its full product line in January 2011, and the Mini Pops are organic, gluten free, corn free, and Kosher. Popped sorghum has been popular in Africa and India for hundreds of years, though it is very new to the U.S. Compared to popcorn, the Mini Pops are much smaller, though they taste very similar. Mini Pops come in a variety of flavors, such as Itsy Bitsy Chili Cheese, Itty Bitty Butter, and Baby White Cheddar. These flavored ones were interesting and tasty too, especially the spicier varieties. The Cutie Caramel Clusters were also a good choice, sweet but not overly so, and similar in some respects to caramel corn.

As a lover of hard cider, I had looked forward to checking out Fatty Bampkins Maine Draft Cider at the food show. Produced in South Casco, Maine, they use only 100% fresh cider which has been pressed at Ricker Hill Orchards in Turner, Maine. The only other ingredients they use are yeast, apple juice, sorbates and sulfites as preservatives. They produce only two batches each year, the first from the initial pressing of apples in November. They save some of the apples for a second pressing in February.

Six apple varieties are used, and each is fermented separately, with three different yeasts, yielding 18 different ciders. The ciders are aged for about four months in used bourbon and rye barrels. Those ciders are then blended together and filtered for the final product. The hard cider is gluten free. When they first began, they produced an initial run of 2000 gallons and last year they made 12,000 gallons. They won't produce any flavored hard ciders, and stated that in Massachusetts, if you add any flavorings, then you are not legally permitted to call it a cider. One of their future plans is to add a new apple variety each year, to further expand the complexity and flavor of their hard cider.

They currently produce two different hard ciders, the Original and Dry, and they are available for draft or in bottles. You can purchase a 1/2 or 1/4 barrel for drafts, or buy a 22 ounce bottles, which generally sells for $6.99. They should be available in Massachusetts in April. The Original is made in a more European style and has an alcohol content of 5% and 8 grams of sugar per 12 ounces. It had a clean and crisp taste, with prominent and delicious apple flavors and a mild sweetness. It certainly would be refreshing on a warm day and its lower sweetness means you could drink a few bottles without overdosing on sugar. The Dry has an alcohol content of 6.8% and 1.1  grams of sugar per 12 ounces and is similar in taste though far more dry, and with a bit of tartness on the finish. I enjoyed both ciders and would like to do some taste tests pitting them against a few other hard ciders.

Finding new and delicious Spanish wines always delights me. The Clos Pons winery is located in the Spanish D.O. of Costers del Segre, which is roughly located in the northeast corner of Spain, close to Pyrenees. Within that D.O., the winery is in the Les Garrigues district and the Pons family has been growing olives and producing olive oil since 1945. Olive trees are the most common crop in this region, and the soil is generally very dry. Though they were pouring samples of their olive oil at the food show, I only sampled their three wines.

The 2010 Clos Pons Sisquella (named after the owner's aunt) is an intriguing blend of Garnacha Blanca, Albarino, and Moscatel de Alejandria. With an alcohol content of 13.5%, the Garnacha Blanca was fermented and aged with battonage in French oak for 4 months. I loved the unique taste of this wine, a balanced melange of bright fruit, especially pineapple and citrus, with restrained spice notes and floral elements. A very compelling white wine, with plenty of depth.

The 2009 Clos Pons Alges (named for the area where the vines are located) is a blend of Tempranillo, Garnacha, and Syrah. With an alcohol content of 14.5%, it spends about 9 months in new and used oak, 80% French and 20% American. This is a big and bold wine, with strong blackfruit and licorice flavors and a rich spiciness. This is something you want with a thick, juicy steak.

In comparison, there is the 2008 Clos Pons Roc Nu (the name meaning "new rock" and Roc also being the name of the owner's son). This is a blend of Tempranillo, Garnacha, and Cabernet Sauvignon which has an alcohol content of 14% and spends about 12 months in new and used French oak. It is a much silkier wine, lacking the bold spices of the Alges, yet still retaining some more subtle spice elements. The Roc Nu has more concentrated blackfruit flavors with touches of mocha and violets. With a lengthy and satisfying finish, this is a more elegant wine than the muscular Alges.

All three wines come with my recommendation.

Ryan & Wood Inc., Distilleries is another local, artisan distillery, and has been around since 2006 in Gloucester, Massachusetts. It was founded by Bob Ryan and Dave Wood, and they currently produce four spirits, including gin, vodka, rum and rye whiskey. I plan to make a visit to the distillery in the near future, so will only give some basic tasting notes for now, which I hope to expand upon later.

The Knockabout Gin is made with 10 botanicals, and though I am not a big fan of gin, this actually wasn't too bad, especially considering the juniper flavor was more muted. The Beauport Vodka is a produced from a blend of barley, wheat and rye and I consider more a mixing vodka, rather than something I would enjoy on its own.

The Folly Cove Rum, which spends about 18 months in a 30 gallon, used Jack Daniel's barrel, possesses an alluring aroma and a smooth, flavorful taste with a nice depth to it. This would make a good sipping rum, or blended into a cocktail. The Straight Rye Whiskey spends about three years in a new, charred American oak barrel, and also possessed a relatively smooth taste with only a mild but pleasant burn on the finish. It had rich flavors, with hints of smoke, and was very pleasing. Both the Rum and Rye would be my preferences.

Still River Winery, of whom I have previously raved about, now produces a Sparkling Apple Ice Wine. This bubbly was originally produced for the owner's son's wedding but it was enjoyed so much, his family and friends wanted more. Thus, about six months ago, he started making it, and has produced about 100 gallons. In comparison, in 2011, he produced 1200 gallons of still apple ice wine. I enjoyed the flavor, lots of delicious apple notes, refreshing bubbles and it was not overly sweet. It is likely to be a real crowd pleaser. My only issue is that it is expensive, $16.99 for a 187ml bottle or $64.99 for a 750ml bottle. Yes, supplies are very limited and production is laborious, but the price puts it on the equivalent with a good Champagne.


Lee Evan said...

this food was perfectly fine and made me very happy. I planned to eat one myself and then share the other. thanks for sharing it.

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Skyline Exhibits said...

Good post. These food shows are always among the best food shows all around the country.

Nimlok Displays said...

Okay now I've got to find a few of those bottles to add to my collection. So much good stuff coming from New England. Thanks for sharing.