Vodka, dried fruit get top honors at food show

The Modesto BeeMarch 19, 2013 

FRESNO -- Cake-batter-flavored vodka from Modesto tied with dried fruit from the Hughson area for a top prize at a major food show.

Judges at the Fresno Food Expo last week gave them the award for the best new product from the San Joaquin Valley.

Bella Viva Orchards, owned by the Martino family, won for its Pure & Natural Dried Fruit Slices. Cold House Vodka, owned by Lee Palleschi, impressed with its cake-batter version of the liquor.

"Wow," attendee Sheryl Ramos told The Fresno Bee after sampling the latter. "I feel like I have just jumped in a bowl of cake batter, and all I need is for it to start spinning around."

The third annual expo showcased valley products to more than 600 buyers from grocery stores, restaurants and other food-service outfits around the world.

About 100 producers in the valley took part in the expo, which included a public portion that drew more than 1,000 people.

Their votes gave the People's Choice Award to Rosa Brothers Milk Co. of Hanford, which markets milk in old-fashioned glass bottles.

The vodka and dried fruit were among 55 entries in the new-product contest.

Brean Bettencourt of Bella Viva said the new line helps the company in an export market that limits fruit treated with sulfur.

"We currently export to Asia, but (Thursday) we were able to meet eight new buyers from there and we're looking forward to the increased export opportunities," she said in a news release.

Other items at the expo included mandarin oranges, tea, bottled garlic, beer-battered cheese curds and a Greek salsa made with tomatoes, olives, peppers and capers.

The event, created by the city of Fresno, featured tours of farms and training for would-be exporters.

Christine Wong, a buyer for Hong Kong-based food distributor Nutrifarm, was looking for producers of dried fruit, nuts and fruit juices.

"We are very interested in products that are natural, healthy and gluten-free," she said. "And we are very impressed with what we have seen."

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