by Terrance Mc Arthur
Our roving food critic Terrance Mc Arthur continues his search for great food in Sanger and the surrounding communities. Check out more Great Food Search here! Due to some computer issues, this column is a week later, but hey better late than never.
Grapes in a Pouch. Root Beer Milk. Pepperoni Pizza Tamales – where can you find things like this?
The Fresno Food Expo!
It started as a way to expose local products to a wider number of buyers. It was held in March, which meant there wasn’t a lot of fresh produce available to promote. This year, the fourth Expo was moved to July 24, a time when the bounty of the Valley has begun to ripen, and what an amazing array of foods, products, and services there was!
It has grown from 65 vendors and 200 regional buyers to an event with more than 125 exhibitors and over 700 buyer-representatives, along with crowds numbered in four digits.
There were two sessions, “Business to Business” and the “Public Event.” First, buyers from all over the world took a look to find what their customers would want and need, while school districts and other agencies sought ways to create lunches that children would want to eat, and members of the media found stories to tell the world. The second session was a wild free-for-all, as the public arrived with open stomachs to taste as many different products as they could, filling their Expo bags with as many samples as they could grab. At some booths, lines stretched for more than 30 feet. There were long waiting times to taste the goodies from Casa de Tamales, Bobby Salazar’s, Harris Ranch, and Tioga-Sequoia Brewery.
The variety of foods defied counting. Several dairies had flavored milk, and there was super-rich ice cream. Raw Fresno was passing out vegan dishes like Caribbean Tacos made with sunflower seeds, carrots, and a pineapple salsa. Fiore di Pasta offered Rigatoni with Sausage and Cheese Tortellini with a sinfully good sauce. Rosenthal Olive Ranch had a long row of silver vessels containing different varieties of olive oil with flavors that ranged from subtle to “this is Heaven” to “what-hit-me?” Harris Ranch was showing people what beef can be, Valley Lavosh was passing out heart-shaped cracker bread, the people of Central Fish Company were reeling in new customers, and Certified Meat Products had Citrus Carnitas that added new definitions to “Mmm-mmm!”
Fresh produce included carrots, grapes, stone fruit, raisins, pistachios, flavored raisins, apples, pineapples, almonds, pomegranates, and more. Besides food producers, there were banks, cold storage companies, KMJ Radio (they feature farm news), Fresno Yosemite International Airport, accounting firms, waste disposal companies, recycling services, and KVPT (the public-TV station was giving out packets of sunflower seeds for planting, to promote its locally-produced “Valley’s Gold” series).
There was even competition at the Expo. 43 companies had entrants in the New Product category. The People’s Choice award went to Baloian Farms’ Squash Sauté Kits (the samples were really flavorful). Judges on the Celebrity Panel ended up with a tie between the Chicken Chipotle Bacon Tamales and the Pepperoni Pizza tamales from Casa de Tamales (Cicken? Bacon? Tamales? Yes!), and L.T. Sue Company’s San Joaquin Valley Tea.
Exhibitors were thrilled to make connections to new customers and markets. The buyers were amazed by the range of Valley-produced foodstuffs. The public got its money’s worth (Tickets were $40). It’s like going to the fair without having to get sick on the Tilt-a-Whirl.
Honestly, there is no way I can describe all the taste treats at the Fresno Food Expo. Each year, it gets bigger, filling more and more of the Fresno Convention & Entertainment Center’s New Exhibit Hall on M Street. Next year’s Expo will be July 23, 2015. Be there.
Check out more food articles and more of Terrance’s Great Food Search column in our Food Fun section.