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Summer Fancy Food Show, Part I

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Last week the Summer Fancy Food Show took over New York's Javits Center, with thousands of vendors and distributors offering samples of the world's best gourmet products. We thought it would be the perfect place for us to find new pairings for Argentine wines, and boy did we ever! Here's the first installment of highlights from our two days at the show:

Cured meats. Some truly extraordinary Spanish and Italian hams were on display at the show, including the 24-month-aged San Nicola prosciutto, with its buttery fat and mellow sweetness suggesting a generous merlot like the Fabre Montmayou 2009. Pio Tosini's 500-day ham was another star, with a nuttiness balancing its salt. COVAP's 18-month and 40-month bellota evoked a whole variety of fruit flavors, more red cherries in the former and orange in the latter - a nice mix for malbecs that offer a similar cornucopia, such as the Alta Vista Premium 2010.

Cheeses. The show was a Xanadu of cheese, with too many varieties to taste and even to recommend. Jasper Hill's Harbison had a mild and herbal flavor just right for a pinot gris or perhaps a milder viognier; we also liked the vegetal edge of Amanteigado's goat thistle cheese. For torrontes, we'd opt for Luigi Guffanti's three-milk robiola, whose incredible creaminess carries a surprisingly light flavor. We made some interesting textural discoveries, too: the Herdade da Maia Tapada de Sto Antonio from Portugal falls apart in the mouth and then melts away, leaving a rustic and slightly sharp taste that would combine perfectly with a rough-wrought bonarda from La Posta, just as the crumbly Afuega'l Pitu cheese from Asturias would with a Durigutti.

Accompaniments. Who doesn't like a little dried fruit and honey with their wines and cheese? We loved the panforte from Napa Cakes, an unctuous and nutty accompaniment for the richest cabernets, like Weinert's 2005. For a contrast with sharp cheeses, like goat and sheep, we also enjoyed Mitica's Pan de Datil, using dates instead of figs for the classic partner. And if sharp goat and sheep's cheeses are on the menu, try a dab of wildflower honey from France's Le Bon Miel - it has just the right blend of tart and sweet.

Chocolate. We were fortunate to try two dark chocolates made from exceptionally rare beans, and the good news is that now anyone can buy them. Blanxart, a Catalan chocalatier, brings us 77% cocoa solids chocolate from the fabled white cacao beans of Peru, with an arch, strong yet smooth flavor that would go wonderfully with a San Juan syrah such as Finca Las Moras. From Madegascar, Madecasse's 70% chocolate from ancient crus offers citrus notes echoing Patagonian malbecs and blends like NQN's Coleccion.

Stay tuned for another article on the show next week, when we'll discuss gourmet products made especially for wine pairing. Are they really any better? Salud!