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Welcome to Fancy Food & Culinary Products' blog, your place to read reviews of the great fancy and gourmet products we find in the marketplace.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Editor's Choice: Chuao Chocolatier

With local Chicago windchills dipping down into the negatives this week, the first thing on my mind after my frigid morning commute is a steaming mug of hot cocoa. In light of the recent temperature drop and me needing my morning chocolate fix, I have come to believe that the best kind of cocoa is one that warms you from the inside out, one that combines rich, velvety cocoa with the warmth of pasilla chiles, cayenne pepper and subtle spices for an experience that goes beyond taste to for an appealing mouthfeel and an aroma that will have you seriously debating that second mug-full. The cocoa that has most frequented my mug this week is the Spicy Maya Hot Chocolate from Chuao Chocolatier (pronounced chew-WOW).

Chuao's Spicy Maya Hot Chocolate draws its flavor profile from the ancient Mayan culture, one that considered chocolate the food of the gods. The drink that the ancient culture enjoyed, however, was unsweetened, while the mix in Chuao's tin creates a smooth, sweet beverage with just the right amount of spice-driven heat.

Chuao was founded by Venezuelan brothers Michael and Richard Antonorsi. Michael is a master chef whose mission is to create a treat for all of the senses by combining unusual ingredients for a surprising, delightful outcome. But the Antonorsi brothers don't just create a wonderful chocolate experience; part of the company's mission is to safeguard the future of Venezuelan cacao production. Through the Aguasanta Growth Initiative (named after the Antonorsi's small family farm), Chuao helps to fund programs that teach Venezuelan cacao farmers better techniques for harvesting crops and classifying local cacao varieties. There is also a program that sends a "Cacao Specialist" to aid farmers who have questions or concerns about their crops.

For more information on Chuao Chocolatier, visit the website,

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Giving the Gift of Food

'Tis the season to be a foodie! According to The NPD Group, a leading market research company, 52 percent of the consumers who reported giving gifts during the holiday season give the gift of food.

Thankfully they avoid the proverbial brick-like fruitcake (well, 89 percent of them), but with the rich tradition of holiday cookies and recipes that have been passed down through generations, it's not a surprise that more than half of holiday gift-givers gift their loved ones with something edible. In fact, I was planning on gifting some tasty treats myself this Christmas. Mine will be homemade, and I wonder how much of what is gifted will be homemade and how much will be packaged products, like traditional gift baskets, boxes of truffles and boutique treats.

The NPD Group's report shows that 65 percent of respondents enjoy cookies around the holidays, which is no surprise if you have been on Gourmet magazine's website lately ( They recently posted their favorite cookie recipes from the last 68 years, just in time for the holidays (I recommend 1951's Sugar Shuttles and 1957's Lace Cookies). What really shocked me, however, was that vegetables came in second on the list as a top snack food traditionally eaten at Christmas. The only veggies that came out in my household growing up were carrot sticks we put out for Santa's reindeer.

More information about Christmas food-gifting and snacking can be found here.

What kind of food gifts are popular in your stores? And what kind of food gifts do you enjoy giving (or receiving)?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Editor's Choice: Naturally More

Like many people, I try to eat healthy, but I have to admit “taste” usually trumps “good for you.” That’s why, when the sample jar of Naturally More arrived in the mail, I was interested. I read that it was peanut butter fortified with flax seed, flax seed oil and other nutrients. Since I have been spreading peanut butter on my “healthy” morning bagel anyway, I decided to take it home and give it a try. I stirred it up as directed and put in the refrigerator. Next morning was the try-out -- again, remembering it was good for me. Imagine my pleasant surprise to see how easily it spread on the bagel. One of the ingredients is egg whites, which may that has something to do with it. So far so good. Then the first taste -- another pleasant surprise. It has a creamy texture, not at all gritty, and a good peanut flavor. I guess all the good Omega-3 and Omega-6 essential fatty acids it contains don’t affect the taste.

I bet this would be good on all kinds of toasted breads, on waffles, on a variety of crackers, and, of course, as part of a P & J sandwich. It is also shown as an alternative to cream cheese for filling traditional celery stick appetizers.
As I said, something good for you that tastes good.

Naturally More is made in the U.S. by SNACLite LLC (


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Editor's Choice: Coupla Guys

If your shoppers are looking for an easy, quick, hearty meal this winter, I recommend Coupla Guys Foods' Buoy Base as the perfect product to point them to. As a play on the French Bouillabaisse, the 26-oz. jar is filled with fresh ingredients and requires just a jar of water and a seafood of your shoppers' choice for preparation.

I received a sample of the Buoy Base and used it in a quick pinch when I had some unexpected company for dinner. I dumped the jar of product, as well as an additional jar of water, into a pan on the stove and let it warm up while I sauteéd some shrimp in a lemon-infused oil, then I tossed those into the Buoy Base to simmer for about 10 minutes. While this makes a great stew, I found the end result to be thick enough (and absolutely delicious) served over a good rice, and of course, you can't forget the crusty bread for wiping the plate clean.

The Buoy Base can be used with almost any kind of fish or shellfish (shrimp, mussels, clams, squid, swordfish, etc.), and the rich, flavorful stew makes a hearty, filling meal. My impromptu dinner was a complete success, and even my picky father still asks when I'm going to "make that Coupla Guys stuff" again.

Coupla Guys Foods specializes in sauces, and aside from their amazing Buoy Base, the Chicago-based company also offers Awesome Arrabiatta, Marvelous Marinara, Perfect Puttanesca, Terrific Tapenade, Serious Sesame Sauce and Crème de la Crimini Sauce. The other thing I particularly enjoy about products from Coupla Guys is their labeling. Each jar comes with serving suggestions and a recipe that leaves lots of comfortable options and room for interpretation, based on the customer's preference (written, of course, in a charmingly Capone-like Chicago-speak). The language used is inviting and relaxing, and the attitude reflected on Coupla Guys products is, "throw this in, toss some of that in, and ba-da-bing, you got a meal." Couldn't be simpler (or tastier) than that!

For more information on Coupla Guys products (or to sample some charmingly Capone-like Chicago-speak), visit their website:


Monday, December 1, 2008

December Top Shelf Advice

What was your best-selling product in 2008?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Editor's Choice: Theo Chocolate

With Thanksgiving literally a few hours away, my mind has been completely overtaken by thoughts of holiday food. I’d like to thank my coworkers for politely overlooking my mental absence; I just can’t stop thinking about my mom’s incredible stuffing and my grandma’s perfect pumpkin pie!

While I enjoy the familiar flavors of traditional dishes, I also like to experiment with bold tastes this time of year. Recently, I’ve been on a Southeast Asian spice kick; the warm, exotic flavors of Indian and Thai cuisine are curiously parallel to comfort foods we gravitate toward during winter. My new favorite treat is Theo Chocolate’s Coconut Curry bar. Yes, it sounds unusual, particularly if curry is not your cup of chai; but I encourage you to be adventurous!

The bar is part of Theo’s 3400 Phinney collection, a “fantasy flavor assortment” named after the Seattle company’s factory address. I love the Coconut Curry bar’s element of surprise. At first taste, the chocolate is smooth and silky; then toasted coconut flakes and specks of spices unleash tiny bursts of flavor on your tongue. Interestingly, the savory spices (which include coriander, cumin, cardamom, cloves and more) almost make this milk-chocolate bar taste like dark chocolate. It finishes with a bit of heat; just a small piece will do. I like pairing it with a steamy mug of Earl Grey tea.

I admit that I completely judge candy (and books, for that matter) by their wrappers. Kudos to you, Theo; I was sold immediately. The jewel tones and fluid shapes on Coconut Curry’s package reflect the imaginative flavors inside.

Theo’s name is drawn from the Latin word for the Cacao tree, Theobroma Cacao, which translates to “food of the gods” (all the more reason to indulge in chocolate, right?). The company has the first and only organic, Fair Trade chocolate factory in the U.S. To see Theo’s full line, visit

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Editor's Choice: Bakery on Main

I am not what you would consider a health-food nut -- in fact, I am quite possibly the farthest thing from it. Sour cream on that baked potato? Yes please! Whipped cream on my hot chocolate? It's just not hot cocoa without it! But one combination that I am a big fan of, in spite of whatever good-for-you attributes it may contain, is Bakery On Main's Gluten-Free Cranberry Orange Cashew Granola. To quote the packaging, the product is trans fat-free, dairy-free, gluten- and wheat-free, cholesterol-free, low in saturated fat and sodium and casein-free. Add to that impressive list the whole dried cranberries, sesame seeds and flax seeds and you've got something that sounds downright healthful!

Nevertheless, my favorite 10:00 snack lately has been a yogurt (usually of the mixed berry variety) with a few spoonfuls of the Cranberry Orange Cashew Granola mixed in. The slightly sweet granola gives the ordinary refrigerator staple just the right amount of flavorful crunch for a fun mid-morning treat. I imagine that the granola would be a great topper for ice cream, too, like the packaging suggests, or sprinkled over a salad. The Apple Raisin Walnut (which I also enjoyed, just by itself) would be particularly good mixed into oatmeal or as a hot cereal with warm milk.

The company's motto is "Good things come from small batches," and I can definitely say that in this case, you don't need to be suffering from a gluten intolerance to enjoy this granola. You can check out Bakery on Main's other granola flavors and products at


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Editor's Choice: AB Foods LLC

It seems that everybody is looking for ways to eat healthier these days, and with AB Foods' Match-brand premium meat alternatives, it is easier than you may think to slip in a healthier meat alternative. I received samples of their products (they offer Ground Beef, Ground Pork, Ground Chicken, Crab, Breakfast Sausage and Italian Sausage as meatless alternatives) and immediately sauteed the ground chicken, adding it to a cheesy herb skillet meal. Being a frequent meat-eater, I was pleased with the results, as was my vegetarian-since-high-school roommate. AB Foods got the texture and the taste right -- I even prepared it the same way as I would have prepared my chicken. And because the Match products are plant-based, I didn't have to worry about the dangers of under-cooked chicken or about the inevitable chicken "juice" that a real chicken breast leaves behind on cutting boards, hands, etc.

But the real test for Match's Ground Chicken's "chicken-ness" came this past weekend during the Sunday afternoon football game. It was the second half of the Chicago Bears vs. the undefeated Tennessee Titans game and my stomach was growling. I wanted something quick and easy that I could share with my dad that wouldn't interrupt my game watching (at this point, the Bears were on their way to an exciting comeback). While my dad was busy watching the game, I made some easy mac'n cheese, warmed up some Match Ground Chicken in the skillet and mixed it in. I watched out of the corner of my eye as my dad, a traditional meat'n potatoes kind of guy who would undoubtedly turn up his nose at the mention of a meat substitute, dug in. I couldn't resist a little smile as he finished his bowl. My subterfuge had been a success.

Not only did he like it, but he finished the leftovers for lunch this week. While the Bears might not have won, Match Ground Chicken certainly did. Now comes the tough question -- do I direct him to today's blog entry? Or is ignorance truly bliss?

For more information on AB Food LLC's Match products, visit


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Editor's Choice: 34 Degrees

With the temperatures steadily dropping, it seems that we are once again headed full steam into soup season. One of the best parts of eating soup, in my opinion, is having something delicious -- whether it be a slice of artisan sourdough or classic Saltines -- to dip. I came across a product last winter that is definitely going to be a staple in my pantry for this year's chilly soup season.

34 Degrees Crispbread is a light, crunchy crispbread that makes a perfect cracker alternative. It is a product originally designed to be used in place of a cracker with cheese or as part of an hors d'oeuvres platter. In fact, 34 Degrees' Owner and Founder Craig Lieberman and his wife Jennifer suggest serving them with Brie, triple crème and ash-rubbed cheeses, salami or paté, while General Manager Jennifer Margoles recommends topping them with Haystack Mountain Boulder Chevre and PRiMO's Raspberry Habañero Preserves.

I, on the other hand, have stumbled upon another savory use for the crispbread. It was a blustery day last winter and I wanted nothing more than to curl up on the couch with a hot, hearty bowl of cream of chicken soup (with wild rice ... yum!). We were out of traditional soup crackers, so I opened up the box of Cracked Pepper crispbreads, dipped one into my soup, took a bite and was instantly addicted. From then on, I haven't found anything that brings out the richness of a creamy chicken soup better than the Cracked Pepper crispbreads. 34 Degrees definitely doesn't skimp on the cracked pepper either, so the crispbreads add a fabulous little kick to thick soup (or whatever else you eat them with).

The crispbreads come in four flavors: Cracked Pepper, Natural, Sesame and Rosemary, which was a finalist in this year's NASFT Sofi awards, taking home the Silver. For contact information, visit


November Top Shelf Advice

How do you select new products or lines for your store?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Last minute Halloween safety advice!

Whether you are a retailer looking for information to offer your customers or a parent with costumed kiddies hitting the streets -- er, sidewalks -- it's important to be familiar with available resources on how to stay safe this Halloween, especially in light of the recent problems with melamine. Both the FDA and the National Confectioners Association (NCA) are great sources for safety tips, food warnings and recall announcements. Here are some helpful Halloween-specific links.

General safety tips from the FDA:

FDA information, recalls and warnings specifically regarding melamine:

General safety tips from the NCA:

Have a happy and safe Halloween!

-The editors of Fancy Food & Culinary Products magazine

Have We Caught Your Fancy?

From the pages of our magazine, Have We Caught Your Fancy? is now making its debut on our blog!

Frank Stiernelof, president of SCI Scandicrafts Inc. appears with a copy of Fancy Food & Culinary Products at a recent trade show.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Editor's Choice: Nando's Peri-Peri

Anybody looking for a flavorful way to add some heat to their favorite dishes should give Nando's Peri-Peri Sauces a spin. The bright and complex flavor of the Wild Herb Peri-Peri Sauce (the product I recently finished) transitions to a subtle heat that leaves you with the difficult decision of whether to take your next bite or take a sip of something cold. Generally I opt for that next bite.

The Peri-Peri (or African Birdseye) pepper was stumbled upon by the Portuguese in the early 1500s when they were colonizing Mozambique, along the southeast coast of Africa. The pepper was used by natives in sauces and marinades for fish and chicken, a technique the Portuguese adopted and spread south to South Africa during the gold rush of the early 1900s. Fast-forward to the 1980s, when Nando's, a now-international restaurant name was founded in South Africa by two friends, Fernando Duarte and Robert Brozin. The restaurants, now numbering 52 and located all over the world, celebrate Portuguese-inspired flame-grilled chicken and the Peri Peri pepper. It was only a matter of time before their cooking products became available to consumers around the world.

My first experience with Nando's, however, was at a NASFT Fancy Food Show. I received a sample of the product and while suggested recipes on have thrilling names like Prawns Maharani, Duck and Wild Mushroom Ravioli, and Steamed Lemon Pudding with Peri Peri Bitter Chocolate Sauce, I thoroughly enjoyed the sauce as a way to spice up boring pasta salads, mac'n cheese and even a burger on the grill (ketchup not necessary!). It makes a killer Bloody Mary, and it would be good in chicken or egg salad, as well -- in fact, on occasion I found myself scanning leftovers in my fridge, looking for things that would specifically go well with the Peri Peri sauce, instead of the other way around. The sauce comes in heat ranges from Extra Mild with Lemon up to Extra Hot, as well as variations on the original, like Sweet Hot, Garlic and my favorite, Wild Herb.

Additional recipes and ordering information are available on

For retailers interested in carrying Nando's products, contact Talier Trading Group, (201) 484-0306 or e-mail

Monday, October 27, 2008

Smart Choice Program?

The food industry is already buzzing with word of the Keystone Center's Smart Choices Program (which is to be unveiled today at the American Dietetic Association's conference in Chicago). The program is capturing the attention of food industry giants such as Coca-Cola, ConAgra and General Mills. As part of the Smart Choices Program, companies will list calories per serving as well as servings per container on the front of their labels. Other big food industry players, such as Mars Inc. have already made announcements about this informational migration on their labels.

While this may be a sign of things to come with large, mainstream food companies, how do these changes affect the gourmet or specialty categories? Or do they? I know many gourmet/specialty food retailers take packaging into consideration when choosing product lines for their stores, so would calorie/serving count on the front of packaging be an added bonus for shoppers? Or would it be a reason to avoid certain products?


Thursday, October 23, 2008

Update: Béquet Gourmet Caramels

Be sure to catch Béquet Gourmet Caramels in action on the Food Network Sunday, November 2. The Celtic Sea Salt caramel will be featured on Road Tasted with the Neelys at 2:30 p.m. EST!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Editor's Choice: Béquet Gourmet Caramel

I have eaten a lot of caramel in my time, from the mass-market brands like Brachs to the upscale finest-ingredients-only varieties we feature in Fancy, as well as the only slightly burnt batch that I attempted to make last Christmas. In such a large category, there are certain characteristics one must look for to determine a truly outstanding caramel from the rest. Flavor, texture, stickiness and innovation are all key elements of what makes a quality caramel. One company that I found so far to have excelled in all of those areas is Béquet Gourmet Caramel.

Robin Béquet, founder of Béquet Gourmet Caramels, always enjoyed gourmet confections, but she didn't want to venture into the confectionery business herself unless she was sure she could make the best caramel available anywhere. The product of that mindset resulted in an array of caramels flavored with natural ingredients and made in small batches to ensure freshness. The caramels are just the right combination of soft and chewy, and most importantly, I've never been nervous about losing a filling! The caramels come in traditional varieties like Soft and Chewy vanilla butter caramels, but Béquet has also mastered the art of infusing just the right amount of flavor to create flavors like Chipotle, Chocolate, Espresso, Maple, Black Licorice and the newest, Pomegranate. She's covered the confectionery-and-sea salt trend with the customer-requested Celtic Sea Salt butter caramel and the surprisingly addictive Salt-Chocolate butter caramel.

Needless to say, her treats have gotten plenty of attention in the gourmet world, in the form of a Sofi gold for her Chipotle butter caramel and two silvers for her Soft vanilla butter caramel and the Celtic Sea Salt butter caramel. But Béquet doesn't take the credit for herself. "We are very fortunate that we have a great team of people -- our products are made by a team of people who really care about what they're doing," she says. "They care a great deal about the quality of the product, and there's no substitute for that."

For more information about Béquet Gourmet Caramels, visit


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Editor's Choice: Immaculate Baking

For the inaugural Editor's Choice post, I want to feature a product that has consistently impressed me since I received samples of it a couple months ago: Immaculate Baking's new-this-year Better Bakes. The Better Bakes are organic, ready-to-bake cookie dough and are available in five flavors: Chocolate Chunk, Vanilla Sugar, Triple Chocolate Chunk, Oatmeal Raisin and Peanut Butter. They come pre-shaped in packs of 24 dough balls, so the only skill necessary to bake them is arranging them two inches apart on a baking pan.

Now, I'm a self-admitted purist when it comes to baking -- the cookies that come from my kitchen are always the from-scratch variety. My mom is also perhaps the world's best chocolate chip cookie baker, so I have pretty high standards for what I look for in a great cookie. Immaculate Baking's Better Bakes surpassed them all. I tried the Chocolate Chunk first, just to see how they measured up against the traditional, from-scratch variety. In just 10 minutes, these little balls of dough baked into cookies that were soft, flavorful and surprisingly addictive! I've found that the cookie dough also freezes well, so they'd be perfect to keep around for surprise company. And as if that wasn't enough, the cookie dough is organic, so it is free from preservatives, trans fat and artificial flavorings (which may explain why they taste so good).

Immaculate Baking's founder, Scott Blackwell, not only has a passion for cookies (he develops the recipes himself), he is an avid supporter of American Folk Art. When he wasn't perusing the aisles of the grocery stores looking for flavor trends and new cookie ingredients, he created the Folk Art Foundation, which provides encouragement, support (financial and otherwise), and exposure to the artists working in the folk art tradition. So what's the connection between folk art and cookies? Blackwell sums it up in one word: approachability.

"I wanted approachability to be on the forefront of our company packaging, and what signifies that, to me, is something that tells a story, something whimsical and fun that has that approachability. Many folk artists hang their work literally on their front porches -- they're very inviting. The main thing for many of them is that they want you to come and talk to them and ask questions and find out why they're [creating their art], and that's how I want to run a business and how I want it to be perceived. These artists are fun, eccentric characters, and I think of myself that way, and I like to think that the products reflect on that as well."

For more information on Immaculate Baking's Better Bakes or to learn more about American Folk Art, visit


Monday, October 13, 2008

Welcome to our blog!

Welcome to the official blog of Fancy Food & Culinary Products magazine! We have been posting the question and responses from our Top Shelf Advice department, a page that appears in each issue of the magazine, for you to read and respond to, but now the magazine's editors will also be adding coverage of industry events, as well as other great regular features.
  • Editor's Choice — Each Tuesday, an editor will select a product based on its quality and taste to feature here on the blog. The product could be something we came across at a show, a sample somebody sent us, or something we found shopping on our own. We will include a product description, why we liked it, and contact information for the company that makes it. Check back or subscribe to our e-mail feed or RSS feed to get the latest updates delivered right to you (to subscribe, see the column on the right-hand side of the screen).
  • Have We Caught Your Fancy? — Currently a part of our Shelftalk department each month in the magazine, this is an opportunity for our readers to put faces with names with both manufacturers and shopkeepers. Those who send in a picture of themselves with the magazine will not only have a chance to appear on our pages, but will also be featured right here on our blog.
  • In-Store Spotlight — Our readers spoke and we listened! This brand new feature is something our readers have been asking for, and we're excited to be able to answer those requests! Each month we will select a store from our reader-base to be featured on our blog. This will include photos of the store, background information and a brief Q&A with the store owner.
If you are interested being considered for any of these features, please contact Associate Editor Stephanie Hunsberger via email, shunsberger(at)

Check back tomorrow for our very first Editor's Choice pick!


Tuesday, September 30, 2008

October Top-Shelf Advice

What is your best-selling organic product?

Thursday, September 4, 2008

September Top Shelf Advice

What kind of holiday events or promotions do you organize?

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

August Top Shelf Advice

What is your best-selling fall food item?

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

July Top Shelf Advice

What actions are you taking to ensure strong sales for the rest of the year?