Fresno Food Expo: "This Is About Bragging About Who We Are"

Jul 28, 2016

Thousands of consumers and interested buyers from around the globe gathered at the Fresno Convention Center this week for the Sixth Annual Fresno Food Expo.

The two day event is all about getting Central California products – think tasty cheeses, spreads and charcuterie — into the hands of distributers so people far and wide can taste what comes out of this place we call home.

"This is about bragging about who we are." - Amy Fuentes, Fresno Food Expo

“It’s so much more than a tradeshow, this is a movement,” says Amy Fuentes, manager of the expo. “This is about bragging about who we are.”

Over 150 exhibitors showcased the regions finest produce, alcohol and treats.  Local Pastry Chef Willem Bezemer brought his students to the event.

“We're having a ball,” Bezemer says. “I am impressed with the type of products that are available over here in the Valley. People that live here are really very fortunate.”

Milk: It's Not Just For Kids

Clara Pappa pours orange Creamsicle inspired milk at the Fresno Food Expo.
Credit Ezra David Romero / Valley Public Radio

Walking the aisles of the expo this year I noticed more than a couple exhibitors showcasing glass bottled milk in all sorts of flavors; tastes of childhood like orange Creamsicle, root beer and banana. But the most interesting flavor I tasted was direct from my memory of sticky fingers and a dyed pink tongue at the county fair.  

I’m talking about cotton candy flavored milk from Nutcher Milk Company in Modesto. Clara Pappas, with the third generation family owned dairy, poured me a cup of the sky-blue colored milk.

"The owner tested the flavors with a panel of mothers and children and the cotton candy flavor did really well." - Clara Pappas, Nutcher Milk Company

“The owner tested the flavors with a panel of mothers and children and the cotton candy flavor did really well,” Pappas says.

Other glass bottled milk companies like Rosa Brothers Milk also offered samples at the event.  The Tulare County company’s owner Rolland Rosa says consumers love milk in glass bottles because “it’s a great insulator and keeps the milk colder than other containers. That’s why glass is such a big deal right now.”

Rosa Brothers recently launched a line of individual 16 oz. glass bottles for sale at local stores like Save Mart. But the company's rival Top O’ The Morn Farms offers something that Rosa Brothers doesn’t.

Tom Locke with Top O' The Morn.
Credit Ezra David Romero / Valley Public Radio

“One of our big outlets is our home delivery,” says Top O’ The Morn Dairy Owner Tom Locke. “We’re one of the only farmstead dairies that actually does home delivery. We do home delivery in Fresno, Clovis, Lemoore, Hanford, Visalia and in rural Tulare County.”

Jeff Bennett with Ampersand Ice Cream, the Fresno based shop with a line usually out the door, says Top O’ The Morn milk is the best regional milk for ice cream making.

“When we started formulating a lot of our recipes we did a blind taste test and theirs ranked among the top every single time,” Bennett says. “It just had this clean, natural milk flavor that allowed us for a great base for other flavors to go on top of.”

Adults Only 

Eric Teague with Sweet Potato Spirits.
Credit Ezra David Romero / Valley Public Radio

Another trend I noticed at the expo was around hard alcohol. A few years ago I reported a piece about sweet potato vodka (click here for that story) made by the Souza family in Atwater, Calif. This year the company Corbin Cash Sweet Potato Spirits, showcased a whole line of alcohol made of out the dense vegetable including gin, whiskey and a brown sugary liqueur.

“We’re completely vertically integrated,” says Eric Teague, Brand Manager for Sweet Potato Spirits. “The only thing we have to outsource is our glass and our carbon that we use for filtration. We grow everything that's in our alcohol.”

Kerrigan Harms, with Marian Farms, mixes drinks for attendees.
Credit Ezra David Romero / Valley Public Radio

A farm about an hour south of Atwater near the Valley town of Kerman also showcased their spirits at the event.

Kerrigan Harms, the distillery manager at Marion Farms, poured cocktails for attendees as they stopped by. He served me what he calls a Side Car made with Espirito Biodynamic Brandy.

“We don’t use any additives; we don’t do any fermentation with any extra ingredients," Kerrigan says.

Gena Nonini owns Marion Farms and says her spirits are unique because she uses the biodynamic method of farming. It’s sort of an uber-organic growing method.

“It’s farming back to the way it used to be,” Nonini says. “If I get the ground right and the ground responds and the plant produces a nice grape we’ll get a richer, purer flavor.”

A Piece Of France

In 1998 Nubche Thao moved from Cholet, a small town in France, to the United States. Her family originally relocated to Europe from Laos.

Shortly after arriving in California she craved the pastry like bread – rich in butter and eggs – of her home country, brioche. Nubche missed it so much that she sent her husband Lang to France with a mission to bring her suitcases of the buttery bread back to the states.

“I’d get caught at the airport with literally nothing but two suitcases filled with brioche,” Lang Thao says. “I told my wife that wasn’t going to work out.”

That’s when Nubche decided she’d learn how to make brioche. Hundreds of pounds of flower, butter and sugar later, Nubche started selling the bread out of her house. Today she sells it at farmers markets in Fresno, Clovis and Visalia as “The Brioche Lady.” Each loaf costs $5. 

The Thao family at the Fresno Food Expo.
Credit Ezra David Romero / Valley Public Radio

The business runs under a cottage food license and it’s the couple’s first time at the food expo. They hope the connections they make at the event will take their business to the next level.

“I realize there are a lot of people that don’t understand what a brioche is, so the idea is to meet other local businesses, connect with buyers and meet our fans,” Lang says. “We want to bring awareness to the brioche.”

Lang says there are many ways to eat brioche, but he enjoys a little butter on it and spreads like Nutella.