July 17, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

By Nati Burnside

The inaugural JFood Show was held at the New Jersey Convention and Exposition Center in Edison, New Jersey on June 13 and 14 and was a smash hit. Brands came from all over to show off their products to those in the trade on the first day. Consumers were the focus on day two.

Who knows what this show will look like in the future now that organizers have gotten their feet wet in the kosher food pool? Everyone present was chatting about next year and where the show will go in the future.

But this article is more focused on what was there this year. If you couldn’t make it to the show, here are the top five things that I had, along with a little information that might give you a metaphorical taste of what it was like to be there.

Hey, I can’t bring you an actual taste. Metaphorical is the best I can do.

 

  1. Falafel and Tahini, Heaven & Earth (Bayonne, New Jersey)

While these food shows tend to bring out some pretty interesting products, sometimes a company shows up to present a product that is just a good, solid staple that they feel deserves its moment in the sun.

That was the case with Heaven & Earth, a brand out of New Jersey that showed up with a couple of air fryers, some frozen falafel balls, and tahini in a handy squeeze bottle. The falafel comes in two flavors, Original and Zesty. While the Zesty has a little bit of a kick, it certainly isn’t going to be off-putting to anybody. Taking full advantage of the air fryer fad, this booth was serving up hot, crunchy falafel balls to everyone walking by for two days.

So why buy these over the other brands?

“We want to allow people to make healthier choices while having great tasting food,” said Shani Seidman, Heaven & Earth’s marketing director. “The brand is named Heaven and Earth. We want our food to give people a little taste of heaven, even if they are eating more earthly products.”

Seidman remarked that the rise in air fryers has done wonders for those who want to make falafel at home, but the product can be made in a toaster oven or regular oven as well.

The tahini also came with a bit more of an earthy flavor than usual, as it was actually just the roasted sesame itself. Without any added ingredients, a vigorous shake of the bottle was capable of reconstituting the consistency before use.

Heaven & Earth has been around for five years and their products are available in many kosher supermarkets. They hope to get into more non-kosher supermarkets soon.

 

  1. Sparkling Sicilian Lemonade, Tuscanini (Product of Italy)

This entry is both surprising and unsurprising. Let me explain…

Walking up to the Tuscanini booth (though “booth” doesn’t describe the makeshift corner of Italy that they set up at the JFood Show), I fully expected something there to make my top five. After all, Tuscanini is an increasingly impressive brand of kosher products that are developed and made in Italy before coming to the shelves in America. But I certainly didn’t expect the thing that blew me away to be lemonade.

Do I like lemonade? Sure. I mean, doesn’t everybody? But this is not like some regular lemonade you make at home, or buy at a stand, or even buy at the store.

Well, it seems Tuscanini is trying to change that last one.

This is sparkling lemonade. It has just the right amount of carbonation. It’s not a full-on soda, but it’s sharp enough to make you appreciate the bite. And yet, the sparkling aspect isn’t even the biggest factor that makes this lemonade so good.

According to Charles Herzog (president of Kayco, Tuscanini’s distributor), the main factor is the Sicilian lemons. The lemons in Italy (and specifically in Sicily) have a higher sugar content and lower acidity. In America, you have to add a ton of sugar to make lemonade palatable. This version only requires them to add a small amount of cane sugar. The result is a perfectly balanced taste, which is more of a European lemonade than an American one.

“The beauty of a good product is that it’s balanced,” said Herzog as he spoke about the lemonade and other Tuscanini products. “We want to find the sweet spot of making products that are distinctly European, but are still marketable in America.”

All Tuscanini products are made in Italy and say so on the packaging. It’s one way that the brand tries to indicate to their customers that the contents are of premium quality, a tough thing to find in the kosher world.

That quality has led to Tuscanini products being carried in many non-kosher supermarkets. Look for them on the shelves the next time you go.

 

  1. Spicy Peri Peri Beef Biltong, Joburg Meats (Woodbridge, Connecticut)

Everyone knows that COVID-19 hit restaurants hard. But what you may not know is that it also hit some small food brands hard.

You probably remember Joburg, the meat company named for their origins in South Africa that made some amazing products including some of the best sausages that the kosher market has ever seen.

But COVID put the brand’s co-packer out of business. With no way to produce and package their product, Joburg was pretty much dead by default. The owner decided to put the brand up for sale, and new owners are now in place and trying to relaunch.

Not only do they want to get back on the shelves, they want to be bigger and better than ever. To that end, they are building a huge factory in Connecticut that will allow them to make massive amounts of product under their own terms. That includes making a part of the facility that will be dedicated to their first line of products, biltong.

For those who might be unfamiliar, biltong is the South African cousin of beef jerky. It’s not a version, so much as a cousin because the process is actually quite different, even if the end goal is the same. The idea is drying meat so that it lasts longer, but the steps along the way make for very different endpoints.

While jerky is cut into various shapes and marinated before being put in a dehydrator, biltong is made from whole cuts of meat that are dried whole over a long period of time with fairly minimal seasoning on the outside (like a rub or marinade). When it’s done, it’s sliced—you can often still see some red in the center—and packaged.

“The result is a product that is more like a slice of steak than anything else,” said Yuda Holtzberg, co-founder and chief marketing officer. “Plus, the process allows the meat to keep more flavor and nutrients than jerky because it never goes into a dehydrator.”

I loved the spicy peri peri (a kind of Portuguese-South African flavoring) iteration for its blend of hot yet flavorful notes, but it also comes in original and black pepper.

Joburg products should be coming soon to a kosher supermarket near you.

 

  1. Caramello Biscottini Gelato, Cream Gelateria (Lakewood, New Jersey)

Ask anybody in the restaurant industry and they’ll tell you that, when you’re starting out, the best thing to do is to make what you know.

Well, Victor Abady knows gelato. When he was growing up, his father owned a kosher dairy restaurant in which he endeavored to offer gelato, a dessert he had a fondness for after growing up in a less-religious household. Unfortunately, no high-quality kosher product existed at the time.

So his father hired a chef who had experience making gelato. From there, he observed until he learned how to do it himself. After 15 years, the elder Abady closed his restaurant. But Victor was young, ambitious, and dreamed of opening a place that focused just on the gelato.

That dream opened six years ago in Lakewood (12 America Avenue, if you’re wondering) and has been a smash hit. Soon after opening the shop, they started selling pints and now their products (sorbet, as well as gelato) can be found in kosher supermarkets everywhere. They also sell to restaurants, including a few non-kosher ones.

Most popular at the JFood Show was their caramel cookie flavor.

“This flavor was actually a happy accident,” explained Abady. “Some caramel spilled into our regular cookies-and-cream flavor. I tasted it; it was great, so we tried it out. It’s now one of our best sellers.”

The vanilla base is strong, but the caramel ribbons really add the sweetness factor that makes this flavor pop. The combination of the super-creamy gelato and the crunch of the cookies is absolutely perfect.

What’s next for Cream? With a daughter who is allergic to dairy, Abady is looking to start a line of pareve gelatos in the near future. Look out for those in the coming year.

 

  1. Cream of Tomato With Chicken & Orzo, Hale and Hearty Soups (Brooklyn, New York)

The name “Hale and Hearty” might sound vaguely familiar to the kosher consumer. Over the course of the last three decades, the formerly non-kosher soup company had locations all over the New York area, and their soups were sold in many supermarkets as well.

But the established NYC-based brand had fallen on hard times and the previous owners put the company up for sale. That’s when a kosher catering company stepped in and purchased the brand’s name, logos and commissary in Williamsburg. After much effort, the brand is now fully kosher and they are trying to restore the brand to its former place in the market.

Changing some of the recipes was easy. Others? Not so much.

The Cream of Tomato With Chicken & Orzo was a classic top seller for the brand. Chef Marty Levin, Hale and Hearty’s chief operating officer, had to work on it with the previous head chef (who they kept on after the acquisition). After some trial and error replacing the butter and heavy cream with margarine and imitation sour cream, they made it work.

The soup is creamy enough for you to believe it’s dairy, but with good chunks of chicken mixed in with enough orzo to remind you of the last word in the company’s name. It’s comfort food at its finest.

“The name is established in the non-kosher world,” Levin said at the JFood Show. “But now we want it to become a kosher household name, too.”

Hale and Hearty soups are available at kosher and non-kosher supermarkets across the New York metropolitan area.


Nati Burnside is a freelance writer living in Fair Lawn and a man of many interests. He can be reached at [email protected].

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