If you really want to make Santa’s night, replace his milk and cookies with something from this round-up of the season’s best culinary offerings. Any gourmand gift-giver would love getting one of these.
Some entice with exotic ingredients, most are exquisitely executed and others are just classic, the perfect expression of what they’re supposed to be. Like Colonel Bill Newsom’s Aged Kentucky Country Ham.
These nitrate- and nitrite-free hams aged for a year or more were favorites of James Beard and Julia Child. Colonel Bill’s daughter, Colonel Nancy, runs the business now, hand-rubbing each ham with salt and brown sugar, washing it off and curing it with a process that dates from the late 1700s. Aged Kentucky Country Ham (7 to 9 lbs., bone-in, $64.99/lb.) offers a rich, complex taste and firm texture. Smoky Gourmet Barbecue Ham (“Preacher Ham”) is a deeply-flavored and tender alternative to a honey-baked ham. (7 to 9 lbs. bone-in, $59.99.) For something sublime, try their melt-on-your-tongue prosciutto. newsomscountryham.com.
If chocolates wore black tie they would be Sucré Chocolates. Meuniere (brown butter folded into white chocolate and encased in dark chocolate) and Blange (Bananas Foster) reflect its New Orleans heritage and skill in making complex, balanced, beautiful confections. The Sugar & Spice Collection with Holiday Macarons has gingerbread, peppermint and eggnog truffles with peppermint and chocolate macarons. $45. ‘Tis the Season offers handmade vanilla marshmallows, peppermint bark and macaroons. $39. shopsucre.com.
Sid Cook, a fourth generation Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker from Carr Valley Cheese, has been called “The Jimi Hendrix of Cheese.” Among his best, Virgin-Pine Native Blue. Its bluing doesn’t come from mold spores added to the curd, as with traditional blue cheese. Instead he pierces the cheese while aging, allowing native cave molds to do their magic. $16.40/lb. His Snow White Goat Cheddar, cave-aged for six months, is a former American Cheese Society Best in Show. $16.60/lb. carrvalleycheese.com.
Until Divvies came along, folks with food allergies either avoided holiday treats or settled for pallid, flabby allergy-free versions. Divvies’ nut-, egg- and dairy-free cupcakes and cookies have the flavor and texture of the real McCoys. Their candy and popcorn are additionally wheat- and gluten-free. The Big Divvies Cookie Box divvies up twenty-eight chocolate chip, molasses ginger, and oatmeal cookies. $32. The Cupcake Gift Kit has a dozen pre-baked cupcakes, frosting and sprinkles. $24. Three-gallon tin of gourmet popcorn, $38-$44. divvies.com.
The Marin Store specializes in artisanal northern California foods. One-pound Christmas Tree Brie and Peace on Earth Brie baked brie appetizers are wrapped in flaky puff pastry. Fillings include: cranberry/pecan/brown sugar; apricot/toasted almond; garlic/pine nut/basil; and jalapeno/artichoke/garlic. Shipped frozen and oven-ready. Feeds six-to-ten. $30. themarinstore.com.
The Ya-Hoo! Baking Company of Sherman, Texas is “part of the Texas Fruit Triangle,” explains Ya-Hoo! President, Geoffrey Crowley of a group of specialty fruitcake bakeries. “It's not Napa Valley, but we get our fun where we find it,” which explains their Texas-shaped Ya-Hoo! Map Cake. The Texas Manor Fruitcake Ring is light-colored, less-dense, easy-on-spice and heavy on pecans, cherries, pineapple, golden raisins and walnuts. $23.50. The Ya-hoo! Cake Ball Kit makes fruit-free, no-bake, foolproof sweet treats out of Danish Cream Poundcake. $19.95. yahoocake.com.
Glee Gum’s candy-making kits let kids make their favorite treats. The Chocolate Kit has organic cocoa butter, cocoa powder, confectioner's sugar and starter crystals. The Gummies Kit comes with seaweed and instructions on boiling it to extract carageenan, the thickening agent that makes gummies, gummy. Tip: If you want longer-lasting flavor in the Gum Kit, substitute Jell-O or Kool-Aid for the enclosed flavorings. $13/each. gleegum.com.
Everyone likes nuts, especially when they’re lucky and they’re Ricky’s. Durango, Colorado-based Ricky’s Lucky Nuts offers a line of truly outstanding all-natural, dry-roasted and spice-glazed peanuts. Available in Black Pepper and Salt, Spicy Chile Chipotle (packs a powerful kick), Cocoa and Vanilla (flavored with organic Peruvian Cocoa and Madagascar vanilla), and a Bollywood-inspired Bombay Curry Coconut, that you can’t stop eating. Four six-oz bags/$17. rickysluckynuts.com.
It’s the perfect Christmas condiment: a creamy spread of pulverized gingerbread cookies brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Belgium’s Spekuloos Spread is meant to be slathered on hot Belgian waffles. Use it like butter or peanut butter, eat with ice cream or spread on sugar cookies. $7.95. aracadianyc.com.
Former attorney and Army Specialist Kelli Kamm melts Callebaut chocolate and mixes it with everything from crushed waffle cones to grey sea salt to Reese’s peanut butter. Mixed Chocolate Gingerbread Toffee Bark has dark and milk chocolate, crushed toffee and gingerbread spices. Chocolate Peppermint Bark blends dark chocolate with white chocolate chips, crushed peppermint and pure peppermint oil. Six oz. $8.95. chocolatebarkcompany.com.
If eating well and giving-back are part of your holidays, check out Chocolate 4 Charity. When Kelley Baker’s son was successfully treated for a rare and aggressive form of leukemia she met a lot families also dealing with sick children and financial worries. Baker started making and selling her rich Dark Chocolate Espresso Brownies and her delicate and decadent English Toffee. All proceeds go to families in need at Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital in Hollywood, Florida. Sixteen brownies/$18. Sixteen toffee pieces/ $22. chocolate4charity.com.
Bacon and chocolate is so 2010. Bacon and popcorn is so 2011. Chicago’s Salted Caramel’s Bacon Bourbon Caramel Corn is Cracker Jacks for grown-ups - salty popcorn, crunchy Bourbon caramel and bits of smoky bacon. 8 oz. $12. Follow with Imperial Stout Marshmallows chasers, $7. saltedcaramel.net.
Among The Chocolate Nation’s whimsical and hip confections: the Tyrannosaurus Rex Chossil, a baby dinosaur hatching from an egg. Comes with a pachycephalosaurus or a dilophosaurus. $29. And, yes, Virginia, chocolate and cheese do go together. The Wine and Cheese Collection has two pieces each of: Blue Cheese, Port Wine and Red Wine (dark chocolate ganache) and Goat Cheese (white chocolate ganache of goat cheese, champagne and black pepper. $20. thechocolatenation.com.
Stocking Stuffers: Miele Amaro (“bitter honey”) from the Sardinian Corbezzolo tree, has a unique, slightly bitter aftertaste. 9 oz. $19.75. gourmetsardinia.com. Organic rosemary, juniper berries, pink peppercorns, garlic and lemons in coarse Italian sea salt is perfect for roasting, grilling, barbecue and brining. Roasting and Grilling Salt. $14.50. piazzaitalianmarket.com. Effie’s Homemade Oatcakes are a lighter but more intensely buttery and less sweet alternative to traditional shortbread. Six packages $36. effieshomemade.com. Chocolate goes Malaysian with Fatty Chocolate Bars, from New York City’s Fatty Crab restaurant. Milk chocolate has crisped rice, puffed rice and candied ginger. Dark chocolate has roasted almonds, Aleppo pepper and Maldon sea salt. $6 each. fattycrab.com. The only inedible item, the Sizzling Bacon Candle is bacon sans calories. It actually smells like frying bacon.16 oz. candle/$25. sweetsoaps.com.