June 30, 2010 / 1:01 AM / 7 years ago

From truffles to caviar, fancy foods tempt U.S. consumers

<p>Fresh caviar is seen at France's caviar fish farm "Le Moulin de Cassadote" in Biganos, south western France, February 24, 2010. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau</p>

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - There’s food to feed friends, and then there’s food to impress them.

From vintage sardines to tiny pearls of hand-rolled tea, fancy food finds plenty of hungry, high-end consumers ready to pay, say manufacturers, importers and distributors at the Fancy Food Show in New York this week, where some 180,000 specialty foods were on display.

At Paramount Caviar, president Hossein Aimani said caviar sales are on the upswing. As the U.S. economy stumbled in recent years, consumers went for domestic hackleback and paddlefish at roughly $20 an ounce retail, he said.

This year, “they’re buying more expensive caviar, more elegant caviar,” Aimani said. “We’re seeing improvement, about 10 or 15 percent higher sales over last year.”

Top of the line at New York-based Paramount is Israeli caviar, at almost $100 an ounce retail.

Newly available in the United States as of this past month are tins of vintage French sardines by Mouettes d‘Arvor, which can last 10 years if kept in a cool, dark cellar and turned over every six months, said French exporter Olivier Blanchard.

“It’s like wine,” he said.

As the sardines age, the bones of the fish disintegrate so it can be eaten whole, added Francoise Crook of Worcester, Massachusetts-based Crossings which distributes the sardines.

“Just a little squirt of lemon and some good wine and there you are,” she said.

There are truffles of course -- balsamic vinaigrette infused with white truffles, black truffle butter and Italian truffle salt, to name a few at the show, sponsored by the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade.

A jar, about six ounces, of Italian green peaches stuffed with truffles is $24 retail, while truffle mustard is $16 or so for about three ounces, sold by FungusAmongUs, based in Snohomish, Washington.

“THE MOST EXPENSIVE INGREDIENT”

Even tea can be pricey, such as a new-to-market type made from leaves of a Korean hydrangea that releases a naturally sweet oil, said Marideth Post of The Republic of Tea, based in Novato, California. It retails for roughly $17 for 36 bags.

“It’s plucked leaf by leaf, by hand, and then they hand-crumple it,” she said. “The leaf is the most expensive ingredient we’ve ever procured for any tea in 16 years.”

It’s not, however, the most costly tea on their shelf. That would be Jasmine Pearls, tiny hand-rolled balls, at $37 for three ounces. The company produces just 1,000 cans a year.

A porcelet or milk-fed suckling pig retails at about $26 a pound, while duck bacon is $16 a pound, said John Knierim of importer D‘Artagnan of Newark, New Jersey.

Rugulach, the traditional Jewish pastry, too has its high end, selling for $15 a pound, said Ahmad Paksima, president of Chewys, a San Diego, California-based bakery.

“Our rugulach is expensive compared to others,” he said. “We use the best cream cheese, the best butter, the best fruit preserves you can get. We use pure chocolate, not junk. That’s what makes it expensive.”

Editing by Michelle Nichols and Belinda Goldsmith

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