Raymond Hook’s 2016 Winter Fancy Food Show Finds

Unique cheese, condiments, crackers, and olive oil abounded

Two Fingers Biscuits were a standout.

The annual Winter Fancy Food Show took place January 17-19, 2016 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. Our resident cheese expert Raymond Hook spent these three days investigating the 80,000+ specialty food items on display. Here is a list of his top five finds. Look out for these innovative products hitting the shelves in the coming months.

Pine Smoked Arbequina Olive Oil from Regalis
It takes a lot of encouragement for me to try a flavored olive oil – flavored oils are generally something I avoid at all costs. But this one is lightly cold-smoked with special pine cones, producing a delicate yet decidedly smoky flavor. Perfect to drizzle on greens, grilled fish, or atop your favorite pasta.

Fat Bottom Girl Cheese from Bleating Heart Dairy
This raw sheep’s milk cheese was recommended to me by three trusted cheesemaker friends of mine. It’s a firm cheese that’s aged for 3-4 months by a husband-and-wife team in Tomales Bay, CA. A bell-shaped cheese with a distinct (but not overpowering) sheepy flavor, this would be great shaved over warm pasta, finely grated over eggs, or on its own as part of a cheese plate.

Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar from Cows Creamery
I have been a longtime fan of aged cheddar from Prince Edward Island, Canada. It maintains the ideal balance of aged-cheddar sharpness and young-cheddar moisture and freshness. This particular cheese just won Best Vintage Cheddar in the 2015 World Cheese Awards and once you taste it, you’ll instantly know why.

Tart Cherry and White Tea Preserves from Quince & Apple
There must have been a thousand jams, jellies, preserves, fruit toppings – you name it – at this year’s show. I couldn’t try them all, but of the many I did try, this was the standout. The owner of Quince & Apple unhesitatingly told me that this flavor is his absolute favorite. It’s fresh and tart, perfect to pair with washed-rind, bleu-veined, or rich bloomy-rind cheeses.

Mint & Chocolate Humbug “Two Fingers” by The Fine Cheese Co.
The first thing you smell when you open a bag of these British biscuits is fresh mint, then the rich, balanced chocolate flavors kick in. Their texture is phenomenal: crunchy on the outside, moist on the inside. Not only are these cookies delicious, but the package design is cool and modern. I think that peace signs are just the thing the world needs more of right now.

You can read Raymond’s Fancy Food Show picks from the Winter 2014, Summer 2014 and Summer 2015 shows here on The Daily Meal.

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You can follow Raymond's cheese adventures on Facebook, Twitter, and his website. Additional reporting by Madeleine James.