It’s no secret the Central Valley is a rich agricultural region, growing everything from almonds to citrus and stone fruit. But while nuts and dried fruits were aplenty at this year’s Food Expo, held July 26-27 at the Fresno Convention Center, I learned there is much more made here locally than what sprouts from trees and vines.
For example, did you know that the McCormick spices you have sitting on your pantry shelf right now likely include ingredients sourced from Lemoore? Costco Kirkland spices, too! Plus, popular brands Ro-Tel and La Victoria use Valley tomatoes in their recipes. And this is just the information I gained from one booth at the Expo’s business-to-business fair.
Meandering from one display to the next, I tried all manner of samples from sriracha ketchup and salsa, to delicious pastries and cold brew coffee. Harris Ranch was even passing out large sliders featuring their meat. Whether it was the too-be-expected healthy raisins and pistachios or the surprise treats like ice cream and beer, the Food Expo proved the Valley has it all.
I couldn’t possibly list every delectable sample I tried, but I’d be amiss not to brag on some of the new products that snagged a People’s Choice award Wednesday night.
Voters clearly had a sweet tooth akin to my own as The Brioche Lady earned first place for its purple yam brioche.
The Clovis home-based bakery is run by Leng and Nubchi Thao. Nubchi—the brioche lady herself—was born and raised in France and, after marrying Leng and moving to the Valley, she quickly began to miss the French sweet treat she grew up with, so she decided to bake her own.
Classic flavors like blueberry cream cheese, strawberry cream cheese, cinnamon, pumpkin-filled and chocolate-filled have been big sellers at four local farmers markets—the two in Old Town Clovis (Friday evenings and Saturday mornings), the one at Manchester Center (Friday morning) and the Kaiser Permanente Farmers Market (Wednesday mornings).
Leng said The Brioche Lady has reached its home baking capacity and they soon hope to open a retail bakery in Clovis.
“We’ve been doing this since the fall of 2015 and have grown,” he said. “Our natural next step is to grow into a retail commercial space because we’ve maxed out our capability from home…we’re eyeing a space near Ross on Shaw and Minnewawa. They need a bakery over there badly. We hope to open a bakery in December.”
Pairing perfectly with the brioche was second place award-winning Cold Brew Coffee Milk, a collaboration between Rosa Brothers Milk Company and Lanna Coffee Co. Lanna owner Bryan Feil said the tasty beverage has been so in demand since it was released that the duo is now brainstorming how to produce more. Currently, they are maxed out brewing 200-plus gallons each week.
Rounding out the top three was the world-famous Sun-Maid raisin company and its new sour strawberry golden raisins. While the strawberry flavor stood out, Sun-Maid also entered its new sour lemon golden raisins in the competition. Sun-Maid’s Clint Goto said the new raisin varieties are similar to competitor Champion’s sweet and sour Raisels, but Sun-Maid’s flavored raisins have no added sugar. It took Sun-Maid four years to develop the two new raisin snacks, Goto said, and voters clearly felt that was time well spent.
In the Buyer’s Choice category, the top three new products were Tioga-Sequoia Brewery’s Half Dome California Wheat Beer, Enzo Olive Oil Company’s Fresno Chili Olive Oil, and Busseto Foods Party Pack Wine Trail Edition.
Enzo’s Fresno Chili Olive Oil is one of three flavors in its new line of crushed olive oils. The other two are basil and clementine. Jenny Barber, the sales and marketing coordinator for the company, said the crushed line differs from Enzo’s infused olive oils, as the chilis, basil, or clementines, are crushed with the olives in the olive oil making process, rather than incorporated later.
In addition to the new line of olive oils, Enzo customers can also look for the company’s new line of pesto, featuring the traditional basil pesto, a sundried tomato pesto, sweet pepper pesto and artichoke lemon pesto.
“We’re using all of our own olive oil in the brand,” owner Vincent Ricchiuti said. “The basil pesto uses our almonds and it is just another vessel for our olive oil. We strive to bring great food to our customers. They’ve been introduced to our olive oil and they expect a certain level of product and we’re expanding that line out to include the pesto.”
My Food Expo favorites
While I certainly can’t disagree with the top People’s Choice picks—the brioche in particular is truly amazing—there were a few other products that stood out in my mind above the rest.
I couldn’t dare to rank these picks, for each is unique, but if I had to choose a winner in the most intriguing category, the winner would certainly be Shanley Farms with their Citriburst Finger Limes.
These Australian-style limes, grown in Visalia and Morro Bay, are skinny little citrus fruits that you cut in half, exposing clear pearl beads with a texture similar to fish eggs—so similar, in fact, the lime pearls are often referred to as vegan caviar. You squeeze the pearls right into your mouth and don’t eat the rind. Intern Robin Laybourn said they are also great on sushi, fish, and yogurt. For me the texture cuts a lot of the sourness of a typical lime and brings out the sweetness. I’ll definitely be hunting for them at Whole Foods. They would be a great addition to margarita night.
While the finger limes had all the intrigue, another product I loved, Tweetie’s Smokin’ Salsa, had all the heart, mixed with just a little heat.
While there were a couple amazing salsas to sample at the Food Expo—including an awesome new avocado salsa from Bobby Salazar’s—it was Tweetie’s that stood out to me, not only for its great medium flavor that would pair well with any dish, but because the story behind the product resonated.
The Shaver Lake-based Tweetie’s is owned by Jim Oliver, who started packaging and producing his wife Tweetie’s locally renowned salsa after she passed away.
“Tweetie was the creator,” Ashley Magallon, who works for Jim, said. “She started making it for the bars and grills up in Shaver Lake and did a few charity events. She wanted the whole world to try it and when she passed on, Jim carried on her legacy, coming up with a formula that fit Tweetie’s to a T.”
Tweetie’s can now be found at local grocery stores in the Shaver Lake area as well a couple Vons in the Clovis/Fresno area.
Another new product that tantalized my taste buds was a spicy apricot jam made by Cabron, a hot sauce company based in Parlier. No gimmicks, no inspirational story, just a great combination of sweet and spicy made this product one I’d be willing to drive to Parlier to get.
And because I can’t just choose three, I have to give kudos to my favorite coffee company Two Cities, which provided samples of its blackberry rolled ice cream, topped with a little whipped cream and honey, and its phenomenal cold brew coffee.
More new products to look forward to
- I already mentioned Bobby Salazar’s avocado salsa. It has only been out a week, so it was too late to enter the People’s Choice competition, but judging by the popularity of their booth at the expo, it’s already a hit. Since Bobby’s other salsas are widely available in local stores, I would be on the lookout for this one to hit shelves soon. If you love Bobby’s, as most Fresnans do, you’ll like this addition.
- While you’re getting your salsa fix, also keep your eyes peeled for Casa de Tamales prepackaged corn tortilla tamales in new flavors like cilantro habanero. The tamales are already being sold at the Casa de Tamales restaurant in the Tower District, but once Casa’s new manufacturing facility, which is scheduled to break ground later this year, gets underway you can expect to see them hit stores.
- If you’re a fan of Montreal Steak Seasoning, watch for a local seasoning of that caliber called Steak and Grill seasoning, produced by certified meat/JD Food.
- Producers Dairy will be introducing two new products later this year, a French vanilla eggnog and an 11-ounce, single-serve old-fashioned chocolate milk.
- Wonderful Citrus, known for its Halos, is currently working on growing seedless lemons and a lime with a red interior—interesting!
- If you love Wawona Frozen Foods Peach Jewels as much as I do, guess what? P*de*Q just introduced something similar that is gluten free! And they will be sold in stores.
- If you like almond butter, I’d recommend trying Better Butter by Kahal Farms in Madera.
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