At the center of The Aspen Classic is the Grand Tasting tent. Actually two huge tents with an open-air courtyard in the center, it houses booths for all the marketing interests involved in putting the Classic on. Many and varied companies that benefit from an association with Food & Wine, from Crocs shoes (the orange foamy clogs Mario wears all over town), to Hendrick's Gin (yours truly's favorite Martini ingredient), and all the things in between.
There are well-established brands that hardly exist separate from the magazine, like All-Clad, and brands making a big market push like Fiji Water. The plethora of mid-level wines is dazzling. Rather than try to tell you about them all and about the moments of rubbing elbows under the tents by people excited to get a taste of a mini beef patty from the Jamaican tourist council or sample the next new offering from Absolut, I will instead talk about the folks that won my heart in those crowds of people by offering real food with a sense of terroir.
The Certified Wild American Shrimp group was there representing the thousands of Americans who get on boats every morning of the season to go out to catch wild shrimp. Rather than farming off the coasts of South America or even in the estuaries around the Gulf of Mexico, guaranteeing a boring product that will neither offend nor excite, these guys go out and catch shrimp. Happily, shrimp that taste of place.
At their eight-foot table, they were plating up a simple shrimp cocktail consisting of three types of shrimp: the Carolina White, the Florida Pink, and the Texas Brown. Onto this they would grate on a micro-plane a rock of pink Himalayan Sea Salt, to open the flavor up (there also was some kind of ginger-orange dressing for them if you couldn't conceive of shrimp divorced from some kind of sauce). The three naked, but salted examples all tasted like shrimp I haven't tasted in quite a while. Today's farm-raised shrimp need sauces, they taste of little without them. But here the Carolinians favored the more mineraly flavors, while the Floridians played to sweetness, and the Texans tasted of iodine.
The fact is, all of these are from a part of the world all of our minds have recently been on and if you need a reason other than that they taste better to seek these shrimp out, you can make it that by supporting the market for a product caught in these waters by locals you are putting money into the hands of people working to rebuild in that Katrina-devastated economy. But if you are like me you will seek them out and buy them because you had almost given up on shrimp as an ingredient due to the fact that you can't remember the last time a shrimp tasted like a shrimp and not a sauce, and are saddened by that. Then its as easy as going to their website printing out their card requesting your local purveyors start offering real shrimp, and handing them around your local mongers over and over till your food tastes better.