Sunday, October 16, 2011
Lexington Trip, Part 1: The Incredible Food Show
I hit the road early last Saturday morning for the Incredible Food Show 75 miles south in Lexington, Kentucky, so early the Ohio River was swathed in fog as I headed south. But once out of the river valley, it was all blue skies and sunshine. The show opened at 9:00 a.m., and my ticket ($13 with the $2 off coupon I found online) promised free breakfast to the first 300 paying attendees. This was the first year I’d heard of this event, and I had no idea if lines would form outside the Kentucky Center/Rupp Arena venue before the doors opened – after all, the Voltaggio brothers, who placed 1st and 2nd in Season 6 of Top Chef, were headlining.
I managed to park and wend my way through the massive convention center to the Incredible Food Show on the bottom floor before 9:30, and yes, breakfast was still available, prepared and served by students of Sullivan University’s Culinary Program in Lexington (there is also one in Louisville). I was grateful to have something to take the edge off my morning hunger. The smiling Sullivan students and this festive arrangement on the breakfast buffet table set the tone of Southern hospitality I would find throughout the show.
One of the things that sets this event apart from other “fancy food” shows is its emphasis on local foods. Now in its third year, the Incredible Food Show is sponsored by Kentucky Proud, which promotes farmers, wineries, farmers markets, and local food retailers across the state. Under the auspices of the state’s agriculture department, the program also offers incentives to Kentucky restaurants for using Kentucky Proud products, and its outreach efforts include getting local food into schools. Kentucky State Parks also participate in the program by offering local produce and meats in their restaurants.
The 100+ Kentucky businesses with booths at this year’s Incredible Food Show showcased a wide range of locally raised and produced foods, and nearly all were giving out free samples.
There was a quite a line for the goetta sliders from Glier’s, based in Covington, Kentucky, just across the bridge from downtown Cincinnati.
The applewood-smoked bacon and country ham freshly fried up by Browning’s (from Dry Ridge, Kentucky) were so delicious I bought some to bring home.
Not surprisingly, bourbon and barbecue were big themes. There were lots of purveyors of rubs and sauces, including Hillbilly Specialties, whose stall took “Best Decorated Booth” honors. Although based in the city of Lexington, Hillbilly Specialties isn’t afraid to flaunt its country side.
They served up their Moonshine Marinade on chicken and mushrooms fresh off this rig, and it was mighty tasty, y’all.
Louisville-based Bourbon Barrel Brewing does something a little different in the bourbon vein. It micro-brews soy sauce made with non-GMO soybeans from a farmer in southern Kentucky, letting it naturally ferment in bourbon barrels. Its Bluegrass Soy Sauce and Bourbon Barrel Smoked Salt would also be used in the Voltaggio brothers’ demonstrations inside Rupp Arena.
Several booths featured local honey, and there were a number of candy makers in attendance. Lexington Chocolate Company, which earned an Honorable Mention in the show’s Best Sweet category, offered its Bourbon Barrel Fudge (semi-sweet chocolate infused with premium Kentucky bourbon and toffee pieces).
The Sweet Shoppe, which also specializes in fudge and sets up at lots of festivals throughout Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana, brought an astounding array of caramel apples from its Hodgenville, KY shop.
I’ve seen Weisenberger grits mentioned on menus of a number of restaurants in Kentucky, and was pleased to find they had a booth at the show.
Weisenberger Mills, in Midway, Kentucky, also makes mixes for yellow corn muffins, white cornbread, buttermilk biscuits, spoonbread, and more.
I didn’t realize beer cheese was such a big thing in Kentucky, but five different vendors offered it. Other surprises included a bubble-tea booth from Lexington’s Honnah-Lee Bubble Tea . . .
. . . and flavored teas from Elmwood Inn Fine Teas of Perryville, KY, which somehow publishes books too. The chocolate mint variety smelled heavenly.
One of the busiest aisles was dedicated to Kentucky wineries. Tastes were free or at a nominal charge (25 cents); you could also sample a glass or buy a bottle to take home.
If you've been following this blog, you know how much I love cheese. Bluegrass Dairy and Boone Creek Creamery were just two of the cheesemakers present at the Incredible Food Show.
With production facilities in Springfield and Glasgow, KY, Bluegrass Dairy’s cheeses have won awards, at the KY State Fair and the World Championship Cheese Contest. Their smoked cheddar took Best of Show in the Savory category at last year’s Incredible Food Show.
Boone Creek Creamery debuted a new cheese called the Sassy Redhead (a spicy Old English Cheddar) at the show, adding to its impressive line-up of artisan cheeses. The company also offers monthly cheese-making classes (which may provide the perfect excuse for my next trip to Lexington).
In addition to hosting a booth, Good Shepherd Cheese, home of Kentucky’s first sheep’s milk dairy, in Owingsville, KY put on one of the culinary seminars, sharing a slide show of its farm and animals and explaining the process it uses to makes sheep’s milk cheese. I couldn’t resist buying a chunk to bring home.
Other seminars, in a smaller break-out room, covered rubs and marinades, sauce techniques, the basics of home brewing, and jam making without pectin.
More to come from the Incredible Food Show, and about the Voltaggio brothers. Stay tuned.