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    THE NIBBLE’s Gourmet News & Views

    Trends, Products & Items Of Note In The World Of Specialty Foods

    This is the blog section of THE NIBBLE. Read all of our content on TheNibble.com,
    the online magazine about gourmet and specialty food.

Archive for October, 2007

GOURMET TRAVEL: Oyster Festival

Oyster lines
Oysters hang on long lines in the deep, cold waters, filtering water for food. Currently about 50,000 gallons of Pacific Oysters are harvested annually in the Vancouver Island area.
  Next month is the height of of oyster season on the west coast of Vancouver Island. From November 15 to 18, ostreaphiles (oyster lovers)—and perhaps some other lovers who simply believe in the aphrodisiac properties of the little mollusk—will indulge their love of the briny creatures during the 11th annual Clayoquot Oyster Festival. For revelers who want to enjoy the festival in luxury, Long Beach Lodge is offering an Oyster Festival Weekend Package: a two-night stay for two plus tickets to two festival events hosted by the lodge.
The first is the For the Love of Oysters dinner on Friday, November 16, where Executive Chef Jeffery Young shows off his talents with an array of oyster dishes served with regional wines. On Saturday, November 17, the Long Beach Lodge Winemaker’s Dinner features a “Pearl of an Oyster” dinner, with Vancouver Island guest winery Venturi-Schulze Vineyards and the double mouthwatering fare of Chef Young plus Chef Tim May of the nearby glamour camping wonderland, Clayoquot Wilderness Resort. Other Clayoquot Oyster Festival events include an educational talk, an oyster farm tour and a Mermaid Ball. For more festival information visit OysterGala.com. For more Lodge information, contact Long Beach Lodge at 1.877.844.7873 or visit LongBeachLodgeResort.com.

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NEWS: Winning Beers

At the recently-concluded 2007 Great American Beer Festival, more than 100 judges labored for three days to evaluate 2,793 beers. (For those of you who don’t consider this labor—it truly is). An impressive 222 medals were awarded in 75 beer style categories; top breweries and brewers were then named based on the total number of medals won. Brewers covet Great American Beer Festival medals as the highest recognition of their brewing talents and beer quality. Each year brewers send their beers to Denver to be evaluated by the festival’s Professional Judge Panel which looks to select the top three beers that best represent each style. Winners can tout their awards to customers and distributors to help build their reputations and sales.Among the 75 categories, American-style India Pale Ale continued to lead with the most entries; but there was explosive growth in the Fruit and Vegetable Beer category and impressive growth in the Wood-Barrel-Aged Beer category. The new category of Gluten-Free beer, with just 8 entries, is expected to grow dramatically as brewers recognize the size of the market of beer lovers with wheat allergies. This year, California brewers took the top prizes. Firestone Walker Brewing Company of Paso Robles was chosen as best Mid-Size Brewing Company and The Lost Abbey of San Marcos, brewed by Port Brewing, the best Small Brewing Company.   The Lost Abbey 10 Commandments Ale
The Lost Abbey 10 Commandments Ale
It is worth visiting LostAbbey.com just to read their philosophy and contemplate the beers (“Judgment Day, “Devotion” and others). If you live in one of the 25 states into which it is legal to ship beer, you can become a Patron Saint and order a Lost Abbey sampler pack. The rest of us need to petition our state representatives to repeal legislation that protects a few beer distributors and penalizes consumer craft beer enthusiasts. For a full list of winers in each of the 75 style categories, visit Beertown.org. Read more about craft beer in THE NIBBLE’s Beer Section.

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PRODUCT WATCH: Ghirardelli Gets More Intense

Ghiradelli Mint Bar
Ghiradelli Mint Bar.
  With the dark chocolate category growing 49% from 2003 to 2006, it’s no surprise that popular chocolate producer Ghirardelli has added three new flavors to its Intense Dark line: the romantic-sounding Evening Dream, Midnight Reverie and Mint Bliss chocolate bars. Evening Dream, a 60% cacao bar, is available in limited distribution in specialty stores and at Target. Mint Bliss, also a 60% cacao bar is available nationwide. Midnight Reverie will be available nationwide in January 2008 and has an 86% cacao content. It is targeted to the growing number of fine chocolate buyers who are going deeper into intense cacao. The bars are available for a Suggested Retail Price of $2.99 for 3.5-ounces. For more information, or to order chocolate online, visit Ghirardelli.com.
 

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GOURMET TRAVEL: American Cheesemaker Awards

Cheese lovers can indulge their passion in Orange County, California, November 16 to 18, when the first American Cheesemaker Awards, a celebration of great cheese, debuts. The event begins with a trade judging of the cheeses on Thursday, November 15, and a day of trade events on Friday, November 16. Consumers can participate beginning with the awards dinner, Friday evening. On Saturday and Sunday, the Cheese Tasting will offer the opportunity to savor cheese, wine and other fine foods and attend special culinary demonstrations at the Cheese Academy, where cheesemakers, industry experts and celebrity chefs will conduct exclusive cheese-inspired classes, including wine pairings, cooking tips and of course, more cheeses to taste. Daily admission is $75 per person and includes entry to the tasting and one Cheese Academy class (guests can attend additional classes at no charge if there is space). Tickets purchased before October 15th are $65 per person. Group rates are also available. Hotel accommodations at the Fairmont Newport Beach, where the event will be held, are available at a special rate of $169/night for attendees (requires booking by October 31st). Traveling companions who don’t want to focus on cheese can go shopping at Fashion Island, go to the beach or hang out at the hotel’s Willow Stream Spa. Visit Cheese Awards.com for more information.   Cheese Festival
Taste cheese to your heart’s delight at the American Cheesemaker Awards.
 

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PRODUCT WATCH: Check In To The Hotel Chocolat

Some of Hotel Chocolat’s “luggage.”
Some of Hotel Chocolat’s “luggage.”
  People who love luxury chocolates have a new destination: the website of Hotel Chocolat. The British company, founded 14 years ago, has just launched a U.S. website to enable Americans to try their lovely wares. The company makes chocolate with flair (the website photos show people in scenes that could be on the pages of Vogue), and makes bean to bar chocolate with beans from its own cocoa plantation, the Rabot Estate, on the island of St. Lucia in the Caribbean (the company also uses Ghanian cacao). The company offers a selection of elegant chocolates, including its signature thick chocolate slabs in a variety of flavors and sizes, made by pouring the chocolate onto a chocolatier’s marble table and allowing the pieces to set. Packed in stylish black cases, they just beg to be taken for a weekend of tasting. THE NIBBLE will run a full review of the chocolate in the coming months.
 

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TREND: Organic Coffee

Sales of organic coffee are growing so fast these days, that most other categories can only be envious. U.S. retail sales of organic coffee increased 24% in 2006 to $110.36 million, impressively outpacing the 15% growth of organic foods in general, according to the 2007 Organic Manufacturer Survey conducted by the Organic Trade Association (OTA). According to Caren Wilcox, OTA’s Executive Director, the dramatic increase in organic coffee sales also reflects consumers’ growing interest in organic products, awareness of their availability in venues ranging from small coffee shops to “Big Box” stores, and the ever-increasing quality of organic coffee. In fact, several organic coffees from farms in Nicaragua won the Cup of Excellence competition in that country, held in June. The prestigious award program, managed by the U.S.-based Alliance for Coffee Excellence, selects the best coffees produced in a particular country in a particular year.   Don Francisco’s, one of the top organic coffees in our review.
Don Francisco’s, one of the top organic coffees in our review.
Participants in the Organic Coffee Collaboration, a project of the Organic Trade Association, are driving much of the increase in retail sales. The companies provide much of the organic decaffeinated, caffeinated, flavored and instant coffees widely available at retail outlets nationwide and direct from roasters via the Internet. The companies include Café Bom Dia (marketer of the Marques De Paiva brand, and also certified as carbon-neutral, of Coral Gables, FL), Dallis Coffee (also Fair Trade Certified, of New York City), DaSilva Fine Brazilian Coffee (marketer of ultra premium single-estate coffee directly from Espírito Santo, Brazil, of Winston-Salem, NC), Elan Organic Coffee (marketer of socially responsible coffees it develops through partnerships with village co-ops, of San Diego, CA), Equal Exchange (worker-owned cooperative, Fair Trade Certified™ and one of largest U.S. organic coffee roasters, of West Bridgewater, MA), F. Gaviña & Sons (producer of Don Francisco’s Specialty Coffee brand, of Vernon, CA), Fresh Harvest Products (of New York City), Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (of Waterbury, VT) and Swiss Water Decaffeinated Coffee Company (of Vancouver, BC, Canada). Try them! (You’ll find some of them reviewed in our article on organic coffees.) Organic coffee is grown in more than 30 countries, including the United States. It uses methods and materials that have a low impact on the environment, replenishing and maintaining soil fertility, avoiding the use of toxic and persistent pesticides and fertilizers, and building biologically diverse agriculture. Third-party certification organizations verify that organic farmers use only methods and materials allowed in organic production. Consumers who choose organic products do so for both the chemical-free factor and to support the environment.

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NEWS: Great Tomatoes, Year-Round

Backyard Beauties
Backyard Beauties: A great tomato is joy.
  If New England’s Backyard Farms inspires farmers in other regions, Americans with a taste for quality tomatoes may be able to get them year-round. Once September arrives in northern climates, delicious, locally-grown tomatoes disappear and tomato lovers have only the memories until the warm weather returns. Tomatoes picked green and shipped from thousands of miles away don’t deliver anything approximating the flavor of a vine-ripened tomato.
But Backyard Farms, a greenhouse company located in chilly Maine, is bringing fresh, vine-ripened Backyard Beauties to local markets throughout New England, year round. Their Beauties are grown in environmentally-friendly greenhouses using state-of-the-art technology. While other tomatoes are traveling to the produce section from as far away as Holland and Mexico—a journey of weeks—Backyard Beauties stay on the vine until they are fully ripened. Picked today, they arrive in New England supermarkets tomorrow. The response has been phenomenal. Please, Backyard Farms: Set up shop in every region. Americans deserve great tomatoes all the time! For more information visit BackyardBeauties.com.

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TREND: Olives—More & Better

According to the Trade Institute of Spain, the U.S. consumes about 170,000 tons of olives annually—about 1.1 pounds per inhabitant. Olives are seen as healthy snacks and are consumed in salads, in pizzas and on sandwiches. Even though the U.S. is a producer of olives, most of our olives are black olives used for olive oil. Between 2003 and 2006, imports of fresh and processed olives grew 26%, with a dollar increase suggesting that the U.S. is consuming olives of a higher quality as well. The main exporter to the U.S. is Spain (38%), followed by Mexico (22%), Greece (13%) and Morocco (6%).   Olives
Photo courtesy SXC.
 

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NEWS: “Real” Antioxidant Cocoa Debuts

Cocoa Powder
Cocoa powder.
  Belgium-based Barry Callebaut, the world’s leading manufacturer of high-quality cocoa and chocolate products, announces the launch of a unique new cocoa powder with true, measurable antioxidant benefits. ACTICOA cocoa powder contains a guaranteed minimum percentage of cocoa flavanols, making it a rich source of antioxidants. In addition to the health benefits, it’s also a delicious, full-flavored cocoa beverage (we haven’t tasted it yet, as the official word just came out, but we’re very familiar with the company’s products, and we’ll take it on faith until we get our cache for review).
Only two grams a day of the cocoa powder contain the amount of flavanols—the antioxidants in cacao—needed to have a positive antioxidant effect. Cacao flavanols are one of the most powerful antioxidants yet discovered. Though found in abundance in the raw cacao bean, most of the flavanols are destroyed during the conventional chocolate-making process. After years of research, Barry Callebaut has succeeded in preserving around 80% of the natural flavanol content of raw cacao in this new cocoa powder product. That’s good news for people who’d like to start and end their day with a nice cup of cocoa. Every time over the last few years that another chocolate bar (or fudge product) has touted its “antioxidant benefits,” THE NIBBLE has pointed out that such claims are a lot of marketing hype: that absent research on the label of exactly how many antioxidants were in the bar, it is a pretty vague claim, and that research is typically done on flavanol-enhanced cocoa, not on chocolate bars. We predicted that such a product would get to market sooner or later for those who truly wanted to get their antioxidants through cacao—and here it is! Next, as other companies do the same, we can anticipate, “Now, with more anxtioxidants than the other brand….”

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CONTEST: Spice It Up

Most people don’t realize they should throw away their spices regularly. Others hate to throw things away on principle. But McCormick, the largest spice company in the world, is offering a spice check challenge. First, you can test the age of any McCormick product on their website, SpiceCheckChallenge.com. Just enter the code on the bottom of the bottle and it will tell you if your spice is still good. (CAVEAT: Just because the date is still good is not an absolute. If you’ve “abused” your spice—kept it in sunlight or next to a heat source, for example—it can fade much more quickly. Read our article on keeping your herbs and spices fresh.) While you’re on the McCormick website, you can enter their daily drawing to win a fresh set of spices. A new winner will be chosen every day through December 31, 2007.   Cinnamon Sticks
Whole spices will last three to four years but ground herbs like oregano and basil may fade after just one year.
 

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