Organic booze and mixers furnished unexpected treats. Papagayo, a Paraguayan white rum made from organic sugar cane, was amazingly smooth, intense, and rich, with none of those nasty industrial-aldehyde aftertastes you often find in commercial white rum. I loved it served neat with ice and a little lime wedge, and I know it’d make an outstanding caipirinha, probably even tastier than authentic Brazilian cachaça (a sugarcane liquor similar to rum). Samurai Jim was quite taken with the same distributor’s suave organic seven-year aged Scotch, Highland Harvest. The same line includes U.K.5 organic vodka and Juniper Green organic London dry gin. I probably should have tasted the vodka (although it’s far from my favorite type of hooch) to experience a bit of family history: My great-grandmother, as a young, suddenly impoverished widow in Sandomir, Poland, turned her potato patch into organic vodka — which my five-year-old grandma, the moonshine-runner, delivered to the customers. (A chorus of “Thunder Road,” please.)
The line of organic firewater is available, said the courtly British representative of the brand, at BevMo (the rum running about $25 a bottle, and to my tastes well worth it). I also liked Tommy’s margarita mix — light and bright, mainly fresh lime juice blended with organic agave nectar and a bit of organic cane sugar — a far cry from the sugary, carb-loaded Cuervo and Sauza mixes. BevMo carries that, too, and if you live from La Jolla on north, you might even find the mix in the refrigerators of your serious local groceries.
After falling into near-swoons over the Prosecco with rosewater cocktail at Bite, Jim and I were both easy pushovers for Sence rose nectar, the essence of rose fragrance with a little sweetness. No local source yet, but if you want it, check sencenectar.com about purchasing.
I practically jumped up and cheered when I saw the display from Organic Prairie — and tasted the little sample piece of meltingly tender pork tenderloin they provided. This is the meat side of a familiar dairy brand, Organic Valley, which makes some of the best packaged cheeses I’ve ever tasted. They’re quite large for an organic brand, but from all I’ve read, they still do it right. Like Niman Meats, they’re an independent co-op of small family farms and ranches. Their display at the food show included a refrigerator meat case of gorgeous packaged meats, all pasture-raised, organic, and humanely treated. I lusted for the dark-red, well-marbled, grass-fed porterhouse I saw in that case. Whole Foods seems to be the most available local source for this brand.
Less easily available are some of the new low-carb foods. (Alas, the mainstream unnatural brands gobbled up the low-carb market as quickly as they could, with lines like South Beach frozen foods — still full of the usual polysyllabic products of the chemical factories.) The line I’d most like to see at local groceries is called Doctor Grandma’s Whole Grain Foods, specializing in organic whole-wheat products, made with extra-virgin olive oil where appropriate. The line was designed for diabetics, but it hits the spot for any low-carb dieter, or even those just hoping to eat more conscientiously.
Among other things, Doctor Grandma’s makes a pancake mix and a muffin mix, both sweetened with a no-cal, no-carb sugar substitute that I’ll talk about in a minute. The sample pancake amazed me. It had a good grain flavor and was as light as mainstream brands, nothing like the heavy-handed “good for you” tree-bark pastries of a decade ago. But the product I want, need, and love from this food line is their sugar substitute, made from fruit. It didn’t taste like Splenda, with the latter’s metallic-tasting chemical undertones, or like any of the other monstrous chemical fake sugars. Concentrating hard as I swallowed a quarter-teaspoonful, I discerned no aftertaste at all. A bit mellower and gentler than commercial white sugar, it reminded me of azucar moreno, the Mexican granulated light-brown cane sugar that I prefer to white sugar for most uses. Until some smart local retailer picks up this fine line of foodstuffs, you can order the products online from DoctorGrandmas.com. By the way, I am actually about to put my money where my mouth is and buy the fake sugar and the real pancake mix, and they haven’t even bribed me or anything — their reps at the show never even heard of the Reader.
Another group of products I’d like to try again are Larabar’s raw candy bars made from unsweetened fruit purées, nuts, and spices, with nothing else added. Since dates are the basis of most of the bars, the flavors tilt Middle Eastern. They’re not super-sweet, but they’re pleasing. No local distributor, but you can check into them at larabar.com.
One of the items I smuggled home was a can of sparkling organic energy drink in the interesting-sounding flavor of pomegranate-limeflower. I picked up the can thinking to drink it there, since I badly needed an energy boost and was thirsty anyway, until I read the nutritional information and discovered the whopping 37 grams of carbohydrates — “energy” from cane sugar, the first listed ingredient, plus guarana and green tea (both abounding in caffeine), plus added vitamins. That’s not health food, that’s the equivalent of a Jolt cola, just with a more exotic table of contents. I’ve been doling out its use as a breakfast drink over three days. The taste is less spectacular than I imagined. The lesson here is, an “organic” label is no automatic guarantee of quality or sincerity.
Outside of the “natural” aisles, most of the show was arranged by geographical source. (There were, for instance, miles and miles of Italy, featuring olive oils, cheeses, and pastas ad infinitum.) They might have had a special Stupid Food aisle somewhere at one of the ends, but I saw very few foods of blatant screaming idiocy. Quite the opposite: somewhere in Spain, I got my very first taste of the legendary Iberian ham made from hogs fed on chestnuts. (It was wonderful, indeed.)