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The top 25 food porn photos from the Fancy Food Show

Earlier this week, I was in San Francisco, eating, drinking (and subsequently, drunk tweeting) and awkwardly, dazedly navigating my way -- along with 17,000 other foodniks -- through the bazillions of aisles at the 2011 Winter Fancy Food Show, the largest specialty food and beverage trade show in North America. It was a daunting three days, an unparalleled sensory overload of cheeses and salumi, chocolate and more chocolate, gourmet dips, chips and spreads, bacon in all guises (including bacon-flavored envelopes), weird, creepy vegan things, fancified boutique waters and sodas, glossy, just-released cookbooks, foie gras, macaroons and dainty truffles, and a portrait of the Mona Lisa constructed from gazillions of Jelly Belly jelly beans. By the end of the first day, my legs shook like jelly.

But I persevered, digesting my way through more than eighty countries and thousands of products, snapping photos all along the way. Herewith, the fancy food porn.

Kids weren't allowed into the food halls, but had they been, there would have been pandemonium over the bacon popcorn -- and cheddar bacon popcorn -- that was the talk of at least one aisle. I've never seen so much chocolate in my life, and while most of the samples I tried were certainly "fancy," only one promised a bitch slap. A company from Canada introduced a line of black water -- and, yes, it's really black -- purportedly full of minerals, 77 to be exact. I have no idea why anyone would want to drink water the color of wet asphalt, but the booth scored high on the curiosity barometer. Christ. The cheese. There were cheese from all over the world, and as a certified cheese slut, I became a leach, wearing out my welcome at at least one booth, where it was all I could do to stop myself from stuffing the wheels and rounds into my bag, bra and boots. I had to keep reminding myself that it was the Fancy Food Show -- not the Free to Steal Food Show. There were numerous vendors at the show from Colorado -- Oogie's Snacks, Justin's Nut Butter and Chocolove, both out of Boulder, 34 Degrees, Hammond's Candies and Colorado Mountain Jam, a company from Palisades, which produces some of the best jams I've ever tasted. There were chips -- lots and lots of chips -- jostling for attention, but these organic, gluten-free falafel chips (allegedly the world's first, and only, falafel chips), were a cut above the rest. Whine all you will about salt, but take note: Salts were front and center at the Fancy Food Show, with long lines of chefs, restaurateurs, brokers and food press lapping them up. Any food that has "finger" in its name is subject to ridicule and crass jokes, but these finger limes -- also called citrus caviar -- are beautiful, bold explosions of tartness that, up until now, were only available in Australia. If I'm going to make any trend predictions for this year, it's that these will be a favorite ingredient in restaurant kitchens all across the country. Boutique waters, for the most part, are nothing more than a marketing ploy, and while the packaging of these waters sort of reminds me of bottles of mouthwash, they were incredibly refreshing, subtly flavored and delicious. Foodstuffs made with goat's milk was another big trend at the show, and these creamy caramels, made by Happy Goat, a San Francisco company, were an indulgence that made me more than happy. Loved them. The fast talker pimping his green tea oil swore up and down that its high smoke point -- 485 degrees -- makes it, unequivocally, the best oil IN THE WORLD for grilling, frying, stir-frying and sauteing. He refused to provide a sample, however, so you'll have to take his word for it. The name alone was reason enough to stop at this booth, but the lightly carbonated, pulpy sodas, made with fresh fruit, organic lemon juice and pure cane sugar, were nothing short of stellar. They're not currently available in Denver, but we should see them soon at Whole Foods. The line at the Hudson Valley foie gras booth was eye-rollingly short, which turned out to be a good thing, since it just meant more for me. No food show, fancy or not, is complete without Jamón Serrano, a Spanish, dry-cured ham, and it was here in all of its glorious, salty abundance. Every other booth that didn't hustle chocolate, cheese, or salumi, hustled macaroons. We've stated seeing the weightless meringue-like cookies on several menus, and if the show was any indication of what's on sugar minds, I imagine we'll continue they'll continue to gain momentum. There's really no words to describe this, other than to say that someone has a fetish for Jelly Belly jelly beans -- and a lot of time on her hands. I'll admit that I have a thing for olive bars, if only because they're a kaleidoscope of brilliant colors. This was no exception. But where were the damn toothpicks? There weren't many chefs at the Fancy Food Show doing a lot of cooking, but this guy was the exception, slinging pasta from a mammoth wheel of Parmesan to an appreciative audience of takers, most of whom went back more than once. This display, a whimsy sea of chocolate bars wrapped in playful (and definitely fancy) pig-themed paper, pretty much made everyone stop and squeal. This wasn't a show with a whole lot of gadgets, but the swine-centric kitchenware from this booth made me linger longer than necessary, and after some pleading on my part, I walked away with the mini piggy fry pan, which is available at Peppercorn in Boulder, and Coach House Gifts in Denver. Yeah, so, there's really nothing fancy about fish spilling their guts, but it makes for a good conversation piece at the dinner table. Beautiful ropes of dry-cured meats hung from the rafters throughout the food halls, proving, once again, that salumi is everyone's favorite salty meat. Umami, the Japanese "fifth flavor," is now available as a condiment in a tube, y'all! The paste, a creation from the Brits, is made from anchovies, tomato paste and cheese.

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