For foodies, the Fresno Food Expo is a sneak peek at what could be the next buzzworthy local food.
The foods sampled at the expo at the Fresno Convention & Entertainment Center on Thursday could end up in a cocktail at your favorite restaurant, on the shelves at Save Mart or in a fruit bar bought at Starbucks.
The show, in its seventh year, is a chance for the more than 140 food producers in the eight-county San Joaquin Valley to pitch their products to buyers. About 650 local, national and international buyers attended, including Costo, local restaurants, companies that export food to Asia and buyers representing 1,000 85C Bakery Cafes around the world, for example.
Tioga-Sequoia Brewing Co.’s Half Dome California Wheat made with stone fruit was basking in the spotlight Thursday.
The Fresno brewery debuted the revamped wheat beer recipe in April using Wawona peaches. It’s already in BevMo!, Total Wine & More and local stores. It is also on tap at 100 local bars and restaurants, said Tioga-Sequoia president Michael Cruz.
The beer is about to overtake Blue Moon as the No. 1 wheat beer on tap locally, he said. The brewery has attended the expo for years and workers were marketing the beer to even more potential customers at the show.
“This could be our national brand if it keeps growing at the pace it is,” Cruz said. “I think it’s the future of our company.”
In contrast, Full Circle Brewing Co. was attending the expo for the first time. The downtown Fresno brewery was marketing cans with plastic tops of its Cluster Fuggle Cream Ale and CryoJuice, a northeastern IPA with a mellow flavor.
“A lot of people who say ‘I don’t like IPAs’ end up liking that one,” Arthur Moye said of the hazy IPA.
Moye was excited that two exporters, restaurants and a Costco representative had chatted with him during the show.
Nearly 20 nut producers were sampling products Thursday, more than last year. Makes sense since there are so many nut growers in the San Joaquin Valley. Samples of almond butters, flavored nuts and trail mixes were a common sight.
But a few were marketing something different – like beer brittle.
Jasper Specialty Foods in Newman, north of Los Banos, partnered with Dust Bowl Brewing in Turlock to create Taco Truck almond beer brittle.
“It uses our almonds and their beer,” said Jasper’s Harley Brinkman. “My boss is good friends with the owners of Dust Bowl. He said, ‘Let’s put beer in the brittle.’”
Brinkman had already created an almond brittle recipe and decided to add beer-infused salt to the top. One flavor features amber beer with chile verde salt and another has a lager and lime salt. The brittles’ labels echo the design of Dust Bowl’s beer labels.
It can be purchased at Dust Bowl Brewing and Stewart & Jasper stores in Patterson, Modesto, Newman and Monterey.
A pair of buyers representing 1,000 85C Bakery Cafes around the world said they already planned to buy from companies they met Thursday. They had their eye on raisins and nuts that could be baked into pastries.
“Of course, definitely,” Lea Lee of 85C said. “We’re going to buy it from them. We drove four hours to come here.” The company’s U.S. headquarters are in Los Angeles.
Many restaurant owners scoured the expo for new ingredients to use in food and cocktails. Others participated in a competition at Expolicious, the public portion of the show. They created dishes using local ingredients at the show.
But one restaurateur had something different in mind. Chenchula Sudana and her family own Brahma Bull, the popular Indian restaurant on West Shaw Avenue in Fresno. Not many people know that the family has a catering business, too. Sudana said her mother’s secret sauces inspire customers from San Francisco to Los Angeles to hire them.
Thursday she met several people who could help with packaging and other steps if they sold their own products.
“Apparently there’s no Indian food like ours,” she said. “Imagine if we packaged some of those sauces and chutneys and sold it.”