My tongue was blistered and my cheeks were a-flamin' when I staggered out of the Sandton Convention Centre on Friday, after spending a happy morning tasting and sipping. No, I didn't do any wine-tasting - ten in the morning is a little early, even for moi, the World's Most Enthusiastic Wine Drinker - but I did taste a lot of chilli sauces, olives, tapenades, chutneys, relishes, pestos and olive oils. All were good and tasty, but if I have one criticism, it's that there is far, far too much bottled and pickled stuff on this show.
Look, I can understand that if you're a farmer or a food entrepreneur or running a little home industry, the obvious avenue is to bottle, pickle or preserve your produce. But there are just so many relishes and sauces that the market can take. Frankly, you've tasted one one tapenade or pesto or coulis, you've tasted 'em all (although I can recommend Willow Creek's Green Olive Tapenade with Thai spices).
If I have one suggestion for the organisers of next year's show, it's to try to attract a more diverse range of artisan food producers, especially growers of fresh leaves and herbs, berries and unusual veggies. I was also dismayed at how few local cheesemakers were represented (ie, not one): there are many people producing outstanding cheeses in this country. Could it be that it's just too expensive for them to take a stand, and that they spend all their money punting their wares at the South African Cheese Festival?
I was also disappointed to find not a single stall selling good South African charcuterie: no salami, no ham, no smoked game, no sausages. There were no makers of good breads, no smokers of fish, no growers of ducks or wild fowl, no small independent breweries showcasing interesting beers. There was very little, in fact, to indicate that this was a South African food show: no snoek, no mampoer, no mopani worms, no pap, no wors, no chakalaka, no waterblommetjies, no breyani and - for Pete's sake - no bunny chow.
And it's not as if people aren't producing this good food in South Africa - they are.
So what was good about the show? Well, there were four food stalls that really stood out. Curiously, all four stalls were placed one next to the other, in a row. This mystery was solved when I found out two days later that all four of these producers were the winners of the Sunday Times It’s My Business Competition 2008 (surprise - no link available). Hats off to the judges: an excellent choice of winners.
My number-one sensation of the day was the apple and pear juices produced by Oaklands Fruit Juices of Tradouw. I'm not a huge fruit-juice drinker, but I nearly fainted with pleasure when I tasted their icy cold natural apple juice, which is sold, for a paltry R14 a pop, in real glass bottles (it's bottled immediately after squeezing, and pasteurised in the bottle). Their pear juice is also just ambrosial. This is a product that puts Appletiser and all other competitors in the shade. (If you live on the Highveld, you might like to know that the juice is available from Fruit & Veg City branches).
My socks were knocked off by the preserves and pickles of Fresh Ideas, another winner in the competition. This family team, from Plettenberg Bay in the Cape, produces a range of unusual and truly lip-smacking food products. So much flavour is packed into each jar: I can recommend their chilli mayonnaise, their range of dreamy, bottle-cooked chicken parfaits (the black-pepper-flavoured one was a killer), the beetroot and mint relish and the red onion marmalade. I came away with five jars of their produce, all of which were flattened within two days. I envy you if you live in Plett: the Fresh Ideas shop (in the Lookout Centre, Main Street) offers a home-cooked, take-home dish of the day: braised beef in beer, chicken and mushroom pie, lamb , almond and yoghurt curry, and so on.
A third winner in the competion was the online retailer Yuppie Chef (read my earlier blogpost) and the final winner Aphrodisiac Shack, a smokehouse which produces a most unusual range of smoked products, including smoked extra-virgin olive oil and smoked farm butter.
Other taste sensations: the shittake mushroom relishes and condiments from Bella Vita Gourmet Mushrooms (a winner in last year's competition), and the gorgeous pear and plum preserves and coulis (what's the plural of coulis? Couli?) from a stall whose name I can't remember.
I had a look on the official Sunday Times Food Show website to try and find the name of the stall, but the site - hello? - doesn't list exhibitors. And the brochure isn't much better: it lists only the names and phone numbers of the stall-holders, but not their website addresses or descriptions of their wares.
A final moan? When I asked the makers where I could buy their scrumptious goodies on the Highveld, they sighed and gave me despondent shrugging looks. 'We're trying to get into Woolworths and Spar and Thrupps, but it's an ongoing battle,' said one of them. 'A few small delis stock our products, but we just can't get them in anywhere else.'