Highlights from Last Week's Food & Wine Experience in Minneapolis

Over the weekend, I buzzed over to the Food and Wine Experience at the Minneapolis Convention Center on the hunt for things local, delicious and interesting. I’ve had a varied relationship with this show over the years and, is it me, or does it still feel like it’s trying to define itself?  Nevertheless, if you could put aside greater questions of “the point” of the show, it’s still a darned good time. The mix of attendees was encouraging (with a notable skew toward the younger demographic), the introduction of some fun new food/wine-adjacent products and services was cool, and the Iron Chef-like Local Chef Challenge turned out to be a fantastic addition. I liked how City Pages put it: “It's not just a chance to indulge in your favorite things with people who share your unbridled enthusiasm; it's a chance to completely immerse yourself in the foodie world, to meet people who are famous (oftentimes only to enthusiasts) for cooking and winemaking.” Yep, the foodie celeb stalker in me definitely enjoyed herself.

Though the selection of local wines was nil (hello Minnesota wineries – where were you?), there was much to enjoy in the beverage department under the headings of local beer, cider, coffee, tea and ahem, Bloody Marys. Most of these were the usual fabulous suspects (Surly, Summit, Crispin, Tea Source, Peace Coffee and the funky Coffee & Tea Ltd) but the inspired Lehmann Farms (New Richmond, WI) got my attention with two things I rarely notice: pickled goods and Bloodys. (For some unknown reason, I’m still trying to develop these two taste profiles… don’t ask.) Seeing them in the tray as I walked by, Lehmann’s pickled Dill Brussels Sprouts (photo, right) were a temptation I couldn’t pass up. And I wasn’t disappointed. Briny and still slightly cruciferous… num! But it was their Peppadew™ Bloody Mary Mix that really did me in. It was around medium-hot temperature with a nice balance of zippy and sweet. This mix was about spice, not just heat, which is what I think made my palate happy. Both of these will be important additions to my New Year’s Day Hangover Brunch next year.

I also really loved the new Tera’s Whey products out of Reedsburg, WI. Tera herself told us about her desire to support family farms and local cheesemakers (her whey comes from artisan cheesemakers, listed by name on her website), as well as keep a keen eye on her ecological footprint during manufacturing. I loved these dry mix products – which have little to no lactose, for those of you wondering about digestibility – for their protein load, health benefits and great taste. The packaging is beautiful too! I tried – and then bought – the Fair Trade Dark Chocolate and Bourbon Vanilla versions. (Rumor has it, The Golden Fig is thinking of picking up this line, but you can also find the products at Whole Foods or on the Tera’s Whey site.)

And while I’m on the subject of chocolate, I am excited to cook one of my new pastas from Midwest Mercantile (White Bear Lake, MN). The pasta (photo, top) is made from red spring wheat, harvested here in Minnesota, and is available to buy on their website and at a variety of farmers’ markets. Not only were the flavors exciting (think: Black Olive Linguini, Inferno! Angel Hair, Shiitake Fettuccini) but Midwest also provided ample recipes so you could get your head around how to use the vast array of flavors wisely. Which is helpful, as I brought home the Cocoa Cabernet Tagliarini with visions of chipotle mole cream sauce dancing in my head. Or, perhaps as a dessert with raspberries and vanilla sauce?

Stepping away from actual food products for a moment, I got a kick out of two innovative locals putting a fine point on fun-with-recycling. Jane Whitney of No Whining (Circle Pines, MN) walked us through her line of sassy cork accessories (photo, right). Featuring key chain or necklace assemblies, you can customize your cork with metal, painted ceramic, and bejeweled charm bits. Their proprietary corks say “No Whining” and “Drink Naked” but they’ll also process corks from wineries to then resell in the winery’s own gift shop. That Jane’s one smart cookie! Out in Chanhassen, MN, Jeff Podergois from Corrunista took advantage of his business creating trade show displays and other signs to develop some truly unique wine racks. Made of heavy duty recycled corrugate, these crazy cool racks are fun and functional, with just the right touch of green.

A full belly, a little buzz and fun things in my bag to try at home. Now that’s a tasty weekend!

All photos taken by Jack Fischer from Jack Fischer Photography.

Tracy Morgan is a Twin Cities foodie, cookbook hoarder, and owner of all the right kitchen gadgets. Living in downtown St. Paul, she loves to take her green trolley shopping at the Farmer's Market and see how much weight it can handle. When not spotlighting local goodies for Simple Good and Tasty, Tracy runs Segnavia Creative, a business development and marketing firm that helps small companies create big-picture strategies, understand branding, and navigate social media. She also serves on the board of directors for the Mississippi Market Natural Foods Co-op.