Thousands of people are trekking through the Madison Food & Wine Show this weekend, sampling hundreds of different specialty foods, wines and beers. I’ve gone to this show since it started seven years ago and it just keeps getting bigger and better.

Not only do I get to spend several hours walking and eating my way through a trade show, but I get to see the latest and greatest products being premiered at the show by Wisconsin food companies.

My top three finds this year include:

1. Sassy Cow Creamery – Miniature Gallons of Milk.

Oh. My. Gosh. If you’re a
sucker like me for anything that comes in miniature, you will love Sassy Cow’s brand new adorable one-quart containers, shaped like miniature plastic gallon containers. They just started marketing their white and chocolate milks, as well as heavy cream, 1/2 & 1/2 and eggnog, all in these mini containers. Look for them soon wherever you currently buy this amazing farmstead milk, bottled on the Baerwolf farm near Columbus.

2. Saxon Homestead Creamery – New Cheese: Pastures.

This raw milk, semi-hard, natural-rinded cheese is just hitting retail market this week. I’ve known it’s been in production for awhile, and was thrilled to taste it for the first time tonight. Pastures is an old English farmhouse cheddar style cheese, aged for one year, and boasts a meaty, mellow flavor and lasting finish. This may be the best Saxon Creamery cheese yet.

3. Kelly’s Kitchen – Chocolate Chip Cheese Ball.

Finally! Someone has combined my two favorite foods — chocolate chips and cheese. This product is distributed by Wisconsin’s Sugar Brook Farms, and is a combination of cream cheese, butter and rich chocolate chips – you know, your basic low fat, low calorie food. With an outer layer of almonds, this may be the best dessert every created. Apparently it also comes in Cherry Chocolate Chip and Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip. Yum.

In addition to the above fabulous finds, this year’s show was my most favorite ever, as I got to be one of the judges for the Semi-Finals for the Dueling Chef competition. Charles Lazzareschi of Dayton Street Grille went up against Justin Carlisle of Restaurant Muramoto. The event is a lot like Iron Chef, except the chefs at this show only have 30 minutes to prepare two separate dishes using a mystery ingredient, which tonight was leg of lamb.

Both chefs made amazing dishes, but in the end, we declared Chef Justin at Muramoto to be the winner. His first dish was actually three separate mini dishes of lamb prepared three ways: 1) grilled lamb with apple and fennel, with horseradish ice cream (more about that later); 2) braised lamb with sweet soy sauce, and 3) braised lamb with mini cucumber salad. The second dish was roasted barbecued lamb, with brussel sprouts, sausage, dried cherries and chipotle sauce. Amazing!

Chef Charles also made two amazing dishes – the first was a roasted leg of lamb with potato puree, mushrooms, smoked bacon and brussel sprouts. The second was roasted lamb with coconut milk, dried cherries and sweet potato hash. And, while tasting these four dishes was awesome enough in itself, here are my three favorite moments from tonight’s Dueling Chef competition:

1. Watching Chef Charles grab a half pound of butter with his hands, smush it into his potato puree, and start mixing with his hands. This is proof that butter does indeed make everything better.

2. Trying to guess what Chef Justin was doing behind the counter, only to have him pull out a container of liquid nitrogen and pour it in a pan to make horseradish ice cream. That’s what I call culinary magic.

3. Watching Chef Charles dunk spinach leaves into a deep fat fryer to turn them into the equivalent of spinach chips. Who knew?

The Madison Food & Wine Show continues through Sunday night, and tickets are still available. The final dueling chef will be at 3 p.m. Competing for this year’s Chef Crown will be Justin Carlisle, Muramoto Restaurant, and Daniel Smith, Liliana’s, in Fitchburg. Should be fun to watch!