THE NIBBLE BLOG: Products, Recipes & Trends In Specialty Foods

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TRAVEL: California’s Artisan Cheese Festival

Award-winning Mount McKinley chevre from
California’s Cypress Grove cheesemaker.
  Still have money for gourmet travel? Need a spectacular gift for that cheese-loving someone special? Head to four days of turophile revelry at California’s Artisan Cheese Festival, held in Petaluma (Sonoma County) from March 20-23, 2009. The third annual festival, held at the Sheraton Sonoma County–Petaluma Hotel, is a wonderful opportunity to:

-Educate people who want to learn more about artisan cheese
-Support the artisan cheesemaking community and its sustainability
-Celebrate and enjoy the creations of the artisan cheesemakers
-Eat a heck of a lot of great cheese that is hard to come by

Over the four day festival weekend, you’ll explore handcrafted cheeses, foods, wines and beers from California and beyond. At the second annual festival in March 2008, more than 1,700 attendees met more than a dozen international award-winning cheesemakers and learned how to taste, buy, serve and enjoy distinctive artisan cheeses from the experts.

The educational seminars and tastings were led by cheese experts, cheesemakers, chefs and fromagiers from across the country, and virtually every session involved tastings and/or pairings of artisan cheeses.Planning for the 2009 festival is underway, and the schedule of events will be posted and tickets will go on sale shortly. Sign up for updates at the website,

Visit THE NIBBLE’s Cheese Section for reviews of our favorite artisan cheeses.
Discover the meaning of “turophile” in our Cheese Glossary.
Learn the History Of Cheese.
Take our Cheese Trivia Quiz.

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TOP PICK: Linzer “Celebration Cookie”

Some cities achieve fame through beauty (Paris), power (New York) or the ability to entertain (Las Vegas). The city of Linz, Austria is like Bialystock, Russia, home of the bialy (cousin to the bagel), Frankfurt, Germany, home of the slender sausage that achieved immortality when served on a roll,* and Pils, Czechoslovakia, which brewed a great style of beer (pilsner) to drink with it. Say the city’s name and what’s the first word association? The food named after it.

*At Coney Island, New York City, in 1871. See the History Of The Hot Dog.

Linz gave us the Linzertorte (Linzer Torte is the English spelling), and gets additional honors, too: The Linzertorte is the oldest-known torte† recipe in the world. The earliest-found written version dates to a manuscript from 1653. This doesn’t mean that the torte did not exist prior to then, just that it is the first proof as to the approximate date and place of its origin. As with any item, it is likely to have developed some time prior to its first-known written record.

It’s a Linzertorte—no, it’s a jumbo cookie that
looks like a cake, a 12″ circle cut into 12
triangular cookies. Impressive to serve, it tastes
just heavenly. We can believe we ate the whole

†As opposed to a cake, a torte replaces all or most of the flour in a typical recipe with ground nuts. Almonds, hazelnuts or walnuts are most often used.

Over time, the exceedingly popular Linzertorte, an almond or hazelnut short crust filled with jam, was made into tartlets and cookies. And now, we can celebrate because Let Them Eat Cake, an artisan baker in New York City, has created a spectacular dessert or gift that’s delicious year-round, but perfect for the holidays. It looks like a beautiful, round cake, but has been pre-cut into 12 slices. The raspberry jam gleams through the heart-shaped cutouts, and the surface glistens with crystalline sanding sugar. For the dining table, buffet, workplace or picnic, the cookie can be eaten with a fork or with the fingers. Available in raspberry, apricot or chocolate filling, only a grinch would overlook this opportunity to celebrate. Read the full review on

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TRENDS: Per Capita Beer Consumption Increases

Gordon Biersch Märzen. Read our full review of
this American craft brew.
  After declining annually since 2002, per capita beer consumption in the U.S. rose slightly last year. In 2007, total beer volume in the U.S. increased by 1.4%, returning to 2002 levels, according to recent research. We’re talking about domestic mass-marketed beers, the Buds, Coors and Millers—not the craft beers, which continue to grow each year (but represent a much smaller percentage of sales).

“Beer in the U.S.,” a report from Beverage Marketing Corporation, an industry research company, noted that per-capita consumption of beer in the country in 2007 hit 22 gallons (and if you don’t drink beer, think of how much the other guy is drinking). “While the decreases in the early years of the 21st century were in the order of one or two tenths of a gallon from one year to the next, they became a steadily recurring phenomenon,” the company said in the report.

While imports, which had been one of the most vibrant segments of the U.S. beer market, slowed considerably in 2003 and performed weakly in 2004, imports revived in 2005, but not enough to counterbalance the contraction in domestic sales. The result is that sales in the beer market were essentially flat. Imports played a crucial role in volume growth in 2006, increasing by double-digits. The largest U.S. brewer, Anheuser-Busch, had a sizeable increase in shipments of domestic brands in 2006 but stalled in 2007. However, the next two largest brewers, Miller Brewing Company and Coors Brewing Company, enjoyed solid growth, which contributed to another year of overall beer volume growth.

Find some of our favorite craft beers in THE NIBBLE’s Beer Section.
Learn more about beer in our Glossary of Beer Terms.
Learn the best Beer & Cheese Pairings.
See a six-course Beer & Food Pairing Dinner menu with recipes.
Check out these Tips for Serving Beer.

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TOP PICK: Sticky Toffee Pudding Co.

After the constant media coverage and the long lines at the polls this election year, you deserve a treat. We suggest everything made by The Sticky Toffee Pudding Company. Americans enjoy many blessings. One of them is that Englishwoman Tracy Claros moved to Texas and started a delightful specialty food company, making British-style puddings, which are like warm, individual cakes (learn more about puddings in the main review).

Tracy makes four puddings: the classic British Sticky Toffee Pudding, which is one of those foods that, once tasted, becomes an instant favorite; Ginger Sticky Pudding, the Sticky for gingerbread lovers (and those who don’t yet know they love gingerbread); English Lemon Pudding (totally irresistible); and Molten Chocolate Baby-Cake, a chocolate lava cake that, excellent as it is, becomes the third runner-up in this cornucopia of riches, only because the other three are so seldom found that you must have them whenever you encounter them. We can’t name the winner—the three flavors tie for first place.

Tasting even better than it looks, Sticky Ginger
Pudding is perfect for the holidays—although we
wouldn’t turn it away on a blazing August
How wonderful is it to have before you a sumptuous dessert, about which even Gordon Ramsay could have no complaint? Simply remove the individual portion from the wrapper, place the cup in the microwave for 40 sections, invert the pudding and its sauce onto a plate and garnish at will. You may devour it in only slightly longer time than it took to warm. Or you may have more restraint than we do. No refrigeration is required, although refrigerating (or freezing) extends the shelf life. Read the full review.

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PRODUCT REVIEW: The Best Vanilla Extract & Vanilla Beans

Vanilla is the second costliest spice in the world,
after saffron.
  The United States is the largest consumer of vanilla beans, using around 1,200 tons per year. Most of them are made into vanilla extract. Even if you buy pure vanilla extract—not the artificial stuff, which is a fraction of the price—all pure vanilla extract is not created equal. Even when you buy the finest brands, there’s a big variation—and you can tell the difference, as you’ll see in this article. We sourced the best, and baked it into shortbread cookies and panna cotta. If you love to bake, or otherwise cook with vanilla, join us on this journey. You’ll learn about the different types of vanilla products—beyond beans and extracts), how to buy vanilla, the best brands. We’ll even share the recipes of the shortbread and panna cotta. And, we’ll tell you where you can buy the products, which make great holiday gifts for your friends who bake.

Read the full review of the best vanilla, including a Glossary of Vanilla Terms.

Learn more about the spices with this Glossary of Varietal Peppercorns.
Know your salt: Check out our Salt Glossary and a brief history of salt.
Check out the top antioxidant spices, and delicious recipes that use them.
Like it hot? See the many different chiles in our Chile Glossary.
Learn about umami, the fifth taste (after sweet, salty, sour and bitter).

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