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Specialty Foods from Trade Shows

The Happy Foodie perennially sends a representative to the to-the-trade-only Summer Fancy Food Shows at the Javits Center in NYC to seek some excellent and distinctive items to recommend to our readers. Herewith, a few of the ones that actually managed to make an impression in the incredible variety of items sampled, read about, or (occasionally) sadly contemplated from the vantage point of a hopelessly full stomach.

Best Chocolates:

A crowded field. HF admits to a bias towards the more exotic and unusual in general, which is only sharpened by the palate fatigue caused by sampling dozens of chocolates in a few hours. That said:

Chocolat Moderne (www.chocolatemoderne.com or 212-229-4797) blew me away with their Avante Garde Bars: The Lover (white chocolate w/passion fruit caramel & cardamom) and Blood Orange Bergamot.

Still, Vosges (www.vosgeschocolate.com or 888-301-9866) remains a perennial favorite for their many great exotic varieties, including the Guajillo & Chipotle Chili Super Dark, Bood Orange Caramel dark chocolate, and particularly the infamous Bacon Chocolate, which comes in both milk and dark. Their sister company Wild Ophelia is doing great things with enterpreneurial variations on American classics and local/organic American ingredients, like milk-chocolate-covered beef jerky, dark-chocolate-covered BBQ potato chips, and creative peanut butter cups that include toasted coconut, chia seeds, smoked salt, and caramelized bananas.

Hauser Chocolatier (www.hauserchocolates.com or 401-596-8866) makes delicious and very intriguing truffles, including standard flavors but also cinnamon, apricot mousse, Williams Pear, and Burning Passion, and many more. Their website allows you to pack a box with any customized selection for about a buck per truffle, plus shipping.

Best Liqueur-Infused Cakes: Beatrice Bakery (www.beatricebakery.com or 800-228-4030) makes a line called Grandma's, which includes their original Fruit & Nut cake (with touches of bourbon, rum, & brandy, & a happy lack of candied citron), Chocolate Rum, and Golden Amaretto. Not one of them would embarrass any grandma I ever met.

Best Hot & Runny Cakes: English toffee pudding & English lemon pudding from the Sticky Toffee Pudding Co. (www.stickytoffeepuddingcompany.com/ 512-472-0039) are mindblowing. I'd be willing to bet their sticky ginger pudding and molten-chocolate baby cakes would be too.

Best Cheeses: Grafton Village Cheese for their Maple Smoked cheddar and Smoked Chili Cheddar, and Cypress Grove for magnificent goat cheeses, including the Purple Haze with lavender and fennel, and the phenomenal Truffle Tremor.

Best Cheeses Readily Obtainable at Supermarkets: Cabot, which is spectacular across the board, including plain and chipotle and horseradish variations. Even the 50% less fat cheddars taste like the real deal. Love their smoky bacon cheddar. Yum!

Best Cookies: a massive tie, really, but Dancing Deer (www.dancingdeer.com or 888-699-DEER) doesn't make a bad one. The Molasses Clove is particularly fine. I don't know how they manage their delightfully chewy-crisp texture and perfectly cracked tops, but it's all good.

Also the Outrageous Cookie Dough, fka Fatboy Cookie Company (outrageouscookiedough.com or 201-796-1000) makes an aptly named Outrageous Cookie Dough, from which we tasted the oatmeal raisin, cranberry walnut, white chocolate macadamia, and chocolate chunk varieties (after they'd been baked). A two-pound box of this stuff makes 27 cookies, retails for around $15, and would be well worth it if you want to knock people's socks off with your apparent baking skills.

Best Nondairy Cookies: NoMoo Cookies (nomoocookies.com or 267-362-5326) makes some seriously wonderful dairy-free cookies like Almond Oy and Flyin' Hawaiian, that could please even the palates of those not lactose intolerant. Bonus: they're kosher, too!

Best Juices: Ceres (www.ceresjuices.com) bills itself as "Nature's perfect juice", with no added sugars or preservatives. I've tried their Passionfruit, Youngberry, Mango, and Pomegranate & Lime. All are wonderful, so it's safe to guess the whole line rocks.

Best Chai: David Rio (www.davidrio.com) makes a massively impressive Toucan Mango chai and Tiger Spice chai. Runner up: Rishi Tea (www.rishi-tea.com) has an intense Indian-spiced Masala Chai, available at Whole Foods.

Best Prepared Meat Entrees: Tandoor Chef (www.tandoorchef.com)makes dynamite Channa Masala (a vegan dish of chickpeas with onions, tomatoes, peppers, and spices) Chicken Tikka Masala in a creamy sauce, Palak Paneer (spinach with cheese) and Samosa that were all incredibly hard to stop eating, even when I knew I was filling up space that could be spent at a hundred other booths. Worth seeking out. Email through their site to find a store near you.

Best Artisanal Meats and Pates: D'Artagnan, Fabrique Delices, and Trois Petits Cochons are long-running favorites, and deservedly so.

Best Fudge: Country Fresh Food and Confections (www.countryfreshfood.com or 800-545-8782) makes perennially wonderful fudge in an unbelievable range of flavors. Chocolate jalapeno, Tennessee whiskey chocolate, strawberry cheesecake, Caribbean coconut rum, chocolate cheesecake, and pumpkin pie are unusual and excellent (key lime cheesecake, not so much) but standards such as vanilla, chocolate, and maple walnut are top-notch as well.

Best Hot Sauces: Sweet Sunshine Chili Sauces (www.sweetsunshine.com or 866-SWEET-01) offers thick, sweet BBQ-style sauces from sweet and faintly spicy, to Roasted Shallot & Garlic with medium spice, to Jamaican Jerk, to Hot and Atomic. Someone else will have to vouch for the Atomic as we were too chicken to try it, but the medium ones have excellent taste and texture to go along with the heat. We've been eating these with steamed vegetables and using them for cooking with great enjoyment. Peps up most anything.

Best Dips and Sauces: Taste Weavers (888-810-8365) has wonderful artichoke parmesan, tuscan olive, chipotle cheese, and buffalo horseradish sauces, as well as delicious sweet dips in pina colada, white chocolate peanut butter, key lime cheesecake, & peppermint pattie flavors. I don't even like peppermint, but I liked theirs. This is a company to watch.

Honorable mention: Original Juan's (800-568-8468) features Pain is Good sauces, Diva salsas, Fiesta dips (artichoke/spinach and smoked jalapeno) and the inspired, addictive Cheesecake in a Jar (in regular, amaretto, and hazelnut). In theory, you could use the latter product to actually make a cheesecake, but practically speaking, I bet virtually no one ever goes to the trouble. Evil stuff, in the best way!

Best Snacks or Party Fare: Rising Sun Farms (www.risingsunfarms.com or 800-888-0795) makes layered cheese tortas to die for, in combinations such as Mild Curry with apricots, cranberries, & cashews; Mediterranean, with roasted sweet red peppers & kalamata olives; Marionberry, with roasted hazelnuts, apricots, & cranberries; Gorgonzola, with hazelnuts & cranberries; and Pesto Dried Tomato with basil & garlic. Must be tasted to be fully appreciated.

Ass Kickin' Peanuts (www.asskickin.com or 800-536-3131) from Southwest Specialty Food Inc, which also makes hot sauces and even a chocolate chip cookie mix seasoned with Habanero Pepper.