The Kentucky Proud Incredible Food Show — held earlier this month at the Lexington Convention Center — is where many people, including me, start their Christmas gift lists.
Food producers use the event to introduce products and meet potential customers, and show attendees have the opportunity to taste items to see if they're gift-worthy.
A basket filled with Kentucky-made food items is one of the most satisfying presents to give to out-of-town friends and clients.
Sampling is what the show is all about. Few people will plunk down $5 to $10 for a container of beer cheese, a chunk of sheep's cheese or a bottle of barbecue sauce without tasting it first.
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Here are some tasty offerings from Kentucky Proud producers. The Incredible Food Show offered many more products that are equally qualified to represent Kentucky in your gift basket. You can link to the companies at Incrediblefoodshow.com.
Beer cheese is a true Kentucky product (It was first made at a tavern on the Kentucky River at Boonesboro.) Many people have put their secret family recipes on the retail market.
Victoria Taylor and Karen Nesladek of Lexington introduced UsTwoGirls' Hop'n Pop'n beer cheese at the food show. It was first sold in April, after 11/2 years in the making.
Taylor and Nesladek didn't begin with an old family recipe, though. They created their own. It was during tailgating season that they experimented with recipes and did taste testings with friends.
People who want to make their own beer cheese but don't have a family recipe can buy Bruce's Beer Cheese seasoning mix. It also fits nicely in a gift basket, along with the company's ready-made beer cheese.
Dad's Favorites, a line of cheese spreads, took home the People's Choice award. But there are plenty of other brands that will heat up the taste buds of everyone on your gift list. Allman's, Howard's Creek, PJ's Specialties, Ready to Dip, and River Rat also offer top-of-the-line beer cheese products.
Candy and cheese
Candymakers and cheesemakers are creating a buzz in the Kentucky Proud crowd.
Lexington Chocolate Co. adds interesting ingredients to its premium fudge, including lemoncello liqueur, bourbon, rum, hand-grated cinnamon, coffee, bananas Foster, and cookies 'n' cream. Erika Chavez-Grazian, owner of Cellar Door Chocolates in Louisville, makes a line of truffles by hand.
After early retirement, Sanford and Colleen Dotson bought a farm in Bath County and started raising sheep. They now make and sell sheep's milk cheese. They started their sheep dairy with six East Friesian bred ewes from Vermont Shepherd. The cheese is made from whole unpasteurized sheep milk, and it's aged at least 60 days, Sanford Dotson said.
Sauces from bourbon to barbecue were available.
A tasty barbecue sauce, made by Matt Robbins, owner of Trifecta Sauce Co. in Louisville, is a tomato-based sauce that is sweet and spicy with a smoky tang.
If you're looking for something a little different to add to your gift basket, try Grandma Carolyn's Ketchup. It's an old family recipe that Sharma and David Klee of Georgetown put on the market this year. After a taste of this, you'll never reach for another bottle of Heinz or Hunt's.