Thursday, March 21, 2013

Experiencing Fresno Food Expo

Last Wednesday, I was browsing through my News Feed on Facebook, when a post from a local organization caught my eye.  The Downtown Fresno Partnership, who states their mission as ‘to promote the development and revitalization of Downtown Fresno’, announced that they had two tickets to give away for an event called the Fresno Food Expo.  The pair of tickets would go to one follower on their page; all I had to do was leave a comment telling why I wanted to go.  I hesitated, and was about to browse away, but I decided to just go for it anyway.  When the announcement time came, I was scrolling down the page, when I saw it: there was my name in a post of it’s own. I had won!

The Fresno Food Expo is ‘a unique, regional food event showcasing food producers from the San Joaquin Valley region to local, national, and international buyers’.  The Central San Joaquin Valley of California is one of seven of the most fertile valleys in the world according to the Fresno Historical Society.  Often referred to as the 'Bread Basket of the World', the Central Valley is a cornucopia, producing much of the world’s fruits and vegetables, as well as other agricultural products.   The Fresno Food Expo is in its third year now, and I have been following its news from the start, but this year I would finally be able to attend and my mother could experience it too!

The next day was the day of the event.  Heading into Downtown Fresno early, my mother and I picked up our tickets from the Downtown Fresno Partnership office, and headed over to the Fresno Convention Center where it was being held.  When we arrived at the doors of the convention center, our tickets were scanned and we were allowed inside.  As we walked toward the exhibit hall, a staff member offered us wristbands for alcohol.  I don’t drink so I smiled and declined politely, but my mom, not realizing what the bands were for, eagerly took hers and received a commemorative snifter.  I watched in surprised amusement until it was pointed out to me…I was missing out on a free souvenir! I got the wristband anyway and received a snifter of my own. Neither of us used them all night, but we love them anyway.

Five o’clock came and we let the line move forward a bit before getting in it and heading toward the open door.  As we approached the entrance we came upon a row of display tables where we received tote bags, a program guide, and copies of ‘Central Valley Flavors’, a yearly publication by Central Valley Magazine, a lifestyle magazine produced by our local newspaper, the Fresno Bee.

We arrived inside and the first booth we were greeted with was Homegrown Organic Farms.  I was excited because I had visited their website before.  I found them while searching the Internet to learn what organic farmers are in the area.  The booth was a striking, colorful arrangement of fresh, organic citrus.  The man and woman operating the booth were very friendly, and gave us an orange and tangerine to sample.

We moved forward a few steps in the crowded hall and saw a giant raisin. It was the California Dancing Raisin, the mascot for California Raisin Growers in the Central Valley.  It took a bit of nudging but the woman running the booth and my mother convinced me to have a photo taken with the raisin.  The booth staff handed out samples of a Kasha and Inca Red Quinoa salad with California raisins.  The salad was pretty good, which is amazing since we both haven’t really cared for quinoa in the past; this salad was an exception.

Then there were the sandwiches at Harris Ranch Beef.  The aroma wafted toward us before we could even reach the booth.  They smelled wonderful. There were roast beef sandwich samples, sliced and prepared fresh at the booth.  Though not organic, the cattle used to produce Harris Ranch Beef spend the majority of their life on pasture. The sandwich was amazing.  The roast beef was moist, tender, and flavorful!

Simonian Farms is a local farm store that doubles as a museum for vintage farm equipment and nostalgic memorabilia.  They have delicious goods, and old-fashioned snacks, and even had a visit from President Bill Clinton back in 1995.  Their table had an array of some of my favorite treats from their store: chocolate covered raisins, yogurt pretzels, regular and golden raisins.  This time around they had samples of locally produced pomegranate juice, which was tasty and refreshing.

We stopped in the New Product Peoples Choice award voting area for a short break, and to take in all that we had already experienced. On the table were four cans of flavored sparkling spring water.  The company that produced these was called Noah’s Water. My mother had read about their high pH water in a book called The Seven Pillars of Health by Dr. Donald Colbert in her research on water alkalinity in her holistic fight against breast cancer.  Their booth was definitely one we needed to visit once we were done with our break.

We came upon Cal-Organic, which is owned by Grimmway Farms.  I’ve seen their brand many times in stores and have picked their brand up on occasion.  My mom juices carrots on a somewhat frequent basis in her health battle and buys large 15 lb bags of their carrots at a time.  We began chatting with the staff at the table to learn more about the company. We noticed a large bag of organic shredded carrots on the table and inquired about the price.  They were complementary; what a wonderful surprise!

I never had goat milk before the Expo, so my sample with Summerhill Goat Dairy would be my first time.  I’ve heard a lot of buzz about goat milk so I was eager to see what it was all about.  Summerhill Goat Dairy’s goats thrive on non-GMO feed with no artificial hormones or antibiotics.  The milk is low-temp pasteurized and minimally processed. I was amazed by the taste.  It was wonderful and smooth, and so fresh, I had to remind myself that it wasn't in fact raw.  What an amazing product.  I may just incorporate some goat milk into my diet, alongside my whole, pastured, organic, raw cows milk from Organic Pastures!

We walked on and discovered an intriguing booth.  Flick’s Candy Co produces chocolate candy that comes in three varieties and is non-GMO.  We tried two each of the milk chocolate, the dark cacao, and the dark cacao with sprinkles.  The dark cacao was our favorite.  We purchased a few tubes to take home with us.

We finally arrived at Noah’s Water.  We first tried the spring water with its alkaline pH and natural magnesium, essential for many functions in the body. It was very good and I’m glad we go to try it for the first time.  We then were introduced to their new flavored, sparkling varieties, which included Blueberry Pomegranate, Peach Mango, Lime, and Varni Almond! The flavored waters were very nice, despite having no added sugar and no replacement sweetener.  I opted to try the Blueberry Pomegranate first which had a fruity note, then tried the Varni Almond, which had the real flavor of almonds!  We were moving on to the next booth when a wave of coolness and feeling of refreshment washed over me that stopped me in my tracks.  Never had I felt that way after a drink of water.  I relayed this to my mother who also noted she felt noticeably cooler and more energetic.  We doubled back and asked if we could purchase more.  There was none available to purchase at the Expo itself, but their products are available at Food 4 Less locally, and are also available for purchase from their website.

We went on to see that a cooking demonstration was taking place.  We watched as local catering service, The Painted Table, prepared beer battered fish.  The demo was entertaining and fun.  At the end of the demo, samples were handed out, and the fish was amazing.  The fish, a variety of cod, was moist, succulent, and flavorful with a perfect flaky texture, the fries served with it were perfectly tender on the inside, lightly crisp on the outside, and were well-seasoned. 

Last, but not least, we visited the table of Bravo Farms Cheese.  I had been anticipating trying their cheeses for quite some time as they had initially produced raw milk cheeses.  I have actually had a taste of some of their cheese through the wonderful sandwiches from Dusty Buns Bistro Bus, our local food truck icon with organic, seasonal, locally sourced offerings, and a burning passion for what they do despite the obstacles that they’ve had to overcome.  I had never tried Bravo cheeses fresh before so this was a great opportunity.  We sampled several of their varieties.  I favored their new offering, the ‘Seriously Hot Headed Dutchman’ and my mom favored their bleu.

At around 7 o’clock the winner of the New Product Peoples Choice award was announced.  The winner was Rosa Brothers Milk Company.  The results were not surprising, as they seemed to be the buzz of the show along with another local dairy producer, Dairy Goddess.  Both are local, family owned dairy producers, with unique varieties of flavored milk.  Dairy Goddess is known for their chocolate and strawberry flavored milks and their various flavors of farmstead cheese. They also have a line of minimally processed milk that retains its lovely cream top.  Rosa Brothers is also known for their flavored milks, but I think what took them over the top was a very unique root beer flavored milk.  Neither brand is organic but I’m sure they are much better choices than much of the conventional, confinement produced, over-processed milk products available today.

When we got back home, we wound down and reminisced on the wonderful experience of the evening.  We split the orange and tangerine from Homegrown Organics and they were wonderful! They were up there with our own backyard oranges, which doesn’t happen often.  We also enjoyed more of the Flick’s dark cacao candies.  The Fresno Food Expo was an amazing show and beautiful showcase of what the Central Valley and Fresno, California have to offer.  We literally only made it through half of the show, yet we experienced so much and had so much fun.  There were several booths that I wish we had time to visit and I look forward to seeing more at the Expo next year!

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