Holiday Gift Guide 2016
All Things Edible
Champagne Henriot house was founded in 1808. It’s one of the most respected Champagne producers from the region of Champagne, France.
The Brut Souverain NV is created with a balance of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, the nose has a hit of boldness, moving quickly into a refreshing citrus and floral flavor mix. Fresh bread was also detected. A taste of apricot and oranges lay well on the palate, with vanilla and cherry subtly making an appearance near the end.
Its Blanc De Blancs is made with best Chardonnay grapes and creates a sophisticated blend of fruit, floral and spice on the nose. The honey, vanilla and almond attack the palate to lay down a soft and smooth finish with lingering vanilla scents.
Westland Distillery is making some excellent American craft single malt whiskey. The Westland American Single Malt Whiskey is their flagship brand, with a grain bill of five different roasted and kilned barley malts and its base a pale malt grown in Washington. It’s aged in heavy char American oak and 92 proof.
Aged in new American oak casks. Surprisingly supple from the start, with a gentle nose of fresh malt and cereal, black pepper, and fresh mint. The palate is mild, again surprisingly so, offering notes of baking spices, especially cloves and ginger, then more wood and a butterscotch-driven finish. It drinks like a young Scotch, nothing over-complicated, but balanced and approachable.
Distillerie Cazottes is a unique enterprise centered around a distillery. The resultant spirits (eaux-de-vie) and liqueurs are produced from organically grown fruit supplied by locals either for their own consumption, or bottled by the Cazottes family for retail sale and distribution. The result is a variety of brilliant eaux-de-vie such as apple, pear, plum and also a few rare and wonderful liqueurs.
When its proprietor, Laurent Cazottes decided it would be much more authentic to grow the fruits himself, and make sure they are done so biodynamically. He set up his own distillery to produce the spirits in the Tarn region of France (southeast of Bordeaux and northeast of Toulouse). A portion of the grape brandies he distills there also double as a base for his fruit liqueurs.
Many fruit brandies tend to be super concentrated, pummeling the palate with harsh fruitiness, or somewhat medicinal tasting, and not allowing the attributes of their other elements to shine through, and then lashing the throat with an alcoholic finish. They can really only be enjoyed when gussied up into a cocktail, or perhaps, at best, at the end of a drunken meal. The ones from Cazottes are much more delicate – tasting of fruit, but with exotic flavors and textures to be savored as they do loops around the tongue. Though the brandies are a revved up 90 proof, they go down clean with only a small bite of heat from the alcohol.
Edwards Virginia Smokehouse is a legendary Virginia ham smokehouse that produces its prized Surryano hams and Vcured meats in the United States. (It was unfortunate that they had fire earlier this year.) Despite of that fire, they are still creating some of the best hams I’ve eaten in a long time.
We had tried their incredibly delicious, four to six-month aged, smoky uncooked, bone-in country ham from the hickory wood. The moment it heats up in the oven or even on a hot pan, the aroma is explosive and intoxicating like bacon but different. We ate this with biscuits made from scratch (it’s sublime) and for the leftover slices, it flavors everything we cooked with beautifully.
From the Tale of Two Hams set, the cooked boneless petite country ham is a different kind of ham that is much milder in regards to the smoke flavor than the bone-in country ham but still makes for delicious sandwiches. The sweet smoked ham is similar to the boneless petite ham in terms of the mild smoke level but it’s welcoming sweet honey glaze and it’s great for brunch.
Black River Caviar pioneered an entirely new concept in sustainable caviar. The caviar is harvested from Siberian sturgeon, originally imported as fertilized roe from Russia then wild raised in Uruguay.
The sturgeon are fed an all-natural, organic feed. Black River Caviar’s Russian Caviar Master uses the malossol, or little salt method, to enhance the superb flavor of the caviar.
The Black Oscietra (Acipenser Gueldenstaedtii) is a medium to large grain caviar. The Osetra Caviar eggs tend to be firmer overall constitution in contrast to most of the the other sturgeon species and present a deep and complex full flavored tasting experience. Both caviars were delicious and had its own delicate flavors that works beautifully with the classics like blini with thinly sliced lox and sour cream. It makes for a luxurious brunch or any dish for a holiday or celebration.
For something luxurious for the cook or gourmand in your life, Urbani Truffles is a great gift. This truffle brand The fresh Burgundy black truffles are incredibly aromatic and distinctively pungent fungus that pairs wonderfully with any creamy or starchy ingredient (thinly shaved on top on pastas, risotto, scrambled eggs, etc.). For something a bit more affordable, they have delicious canned truffled sauces and dried pasta made with black truffles that will give you that extra umami mile for your dish.
Maille US has an excellent New York City inspired gift set containing four signature Maille products to pair with classic NYC foods — Dijon Original with White Wine Mustard fresh from the tap, Pesto and Arugula Mustard to mix with cream cheese and schmear on a bagel, Berry Vinegar to drizzle on New York cheesecake and a chic magenta 100% cotton damask tea towel with beloved New York landmarks, and a wooden mustard spoon.
And of course, the seasonal, luxurious Black truffle cep & Chablis mustard and Black truffle & Chablis mustard are favorites as the beloved, musky flavors and aromas of the famed mushrooms are fantastic to be cooked or dipped with hearty meats.
Mary Keehn, founder of Northern California’s Cypress Grove and specializes in goat’s milk cheeses. The Midnight Moon has a black wax rind stands in stark contrast to the creamy, ivory-white paste of the cheese. This cheese smells sweet and not a hint of goatiness to it. It is creamy with those wonderful tasty crystals found in aged Gouda. It melts on the palate and has a sweet taste to match its aroma. There are nutty, buttery and caramel notes and the savor lingers.
Truffle Tremor is a ripened goat cheese loaded with black truffles flaked throughout the pristine white interior that’s covered by a beautiful bloomy rind. It’s a flaky/crumbly goat cheese with black Italian truffles It’s gastronomic splurge and is one of the most addicting and intriguing cheeses on the planet. If you add a touch of honey or eat it with a small dab of honeycomb, it’s mind blowing.
Just under the white, fuzzy rind is a lovely gooey creamline that gets stronger in flavor as the cheese ages. Truffle Tremor has Brie-like qualities, but it’s recognizable as a goat cheese. Biting into the soft, fluffy, cake-y core, you will experience all the distinctive tang, sharp and slightly sour notes of most goat cheeses, but you will find that the truffles intensify and deepen the overall mushroom-y flavor of the chewy, earthy rind. The texture ranges from dry to creamy, and the flavor evolves on your palate and leaves you with a lingering tangy aftertaste.
Ms. Natural is the basis of the entire line of fresh chevre. It has the taste of fresh creamy with a citrusy finish, with no strong goaty aftertaste. Toss with freshly cooked pasta or substitute for mayonnaise or cream cheese in your favorite recipe. The cheese pairs well with Wheat Beer, Lambic and wines such as Sauvignon Blanc, Prosseco and Sancerre.
Jacobs & Brichford Farmstead is a multiple Good Foods Award winning dairy farm located in Southeastern Indiana and create exquisite raw cow’s milk cheeses that you can taste the earth and plants their heirloom breed of bovines (Jersey, Tarantaise and Normandy) have eaten.
The Everton, their take on an alpine large format cheese, named after a nearby town in Southeast Indiana. It is a bit sharper than imported gruyeres, with bold overtones of sweet onion. The quality of the milk shines through. The paste is bright yellow, and flecked with those crunchy, savory, salty flavor crystals that cheese eaters love. Everton would be a perfect melting cheese for fondue. Or, like me, just eat it as is.
The pink-rinded Adair is a washed rind, semi-creamy raw cows’ milk wheel that is inspired by the farmstead cheeses of southeastern France. The feel of the cheese is a bit gritty, lightly tacky to the touch, with a firm, smooth paste, bulging but not oozing and going a bit marshmallow-y as it warms, mildly pungent in aroma. Flavors are lactic, meaty and earthy, with a nice salt balance, with yeasty and floral notes and a pleasantly sour finish. They also have a wonderfully creamy, Fontina-style cheese named Briana. Tomme de Fayette is supple but dense cheese with complex flavors that range from mild to slightly meaty.
Cricket Creek Farm are owned by the Sabot family in 2002, maintaining it as the largest farm in Williamstown, Massachusetts and continuing its operation as a working farm. One important change was made: the Sabots decided to make cheese. Experts were brought in to oversee the purchase of a Jersey herd and early cheesemaking facility, and the Sabots began milking in 2004.
The Tobasi is a Taleggio-style raw cow’s milk washed rind cheese made in the heart of the rolling Berkshire hills. Made from raw Jersey cow’s milk and aged for around four months, the Tobasi has the traditional square format and washed amber-red exterior of a Taleggio. This wheel had a thicker rind and an especially dramatic pattern of deep ridges and grooves from the aging racks and was lightly sticky and grainy to the touch. The yellow-ivory paste was semi-soft but stable, oozing lightly as it warmed, with a smooth, buttery texture. The aroma is pungent and gamey, but as with Taleggio the bark is worse than it’s bite, and the flavor is creamy, meaty and salty with mushroom, wet hay and distinctly fruity notes.
The Berkshire Bloom is a semi-soft bloomy rind cheese inspired by a Camembert. It has a supple white rind and a creamy, earthy, pungent layer surrounding a mild, firm center. Simple and approachable and not overwhelming for the timid cheese eater who is afraid of funky cheeses.
Maggie’s Round is a semi-hard, raw cow’s milk cheese inspired by the toma cheeses of the Italian Alps. Resembling a pineapple upside-down cake, this Cricket Creek cheese is aged for at least four months before being sold in the market. Maggie’s Round is a very firm, smooth and somewhat waxy in texture with sharp and bright flavors and fruity notes.
Shepherd Song Farm is a Wisconsin-based farm that raises beautiful grass-fed lamb and produces sheep’s milk cheeses since 1988. Their lambs and kids (as in baby lambs) are raised on the summer’s fresh grasses and are fed a steady diet of all-natural grain during the winter. No antibiotics or hormones are fed to our kids or lambs. The farm supports environmentally friendly, sustainable agriculture, and healthy, relaxed animals that yields to delicious meat.
Three Babes Bakeshop is an all-organic bakery shop based in San Francisco California that focuses primarily on the all-American pie. Though they can’t ship their fruit pies, they are able to send to your door dependable favorites like bourbon pecan pie, salty walnut pie and bittersweet chocolate pecan. All are delicious but don’t hold off eating these because they don’t contain any preservatives and will be good for a couple of days.
Wooden Table Baking Co. is based out in Oakland, California that specializes in the delicious Argentinian cookie alfajores. An alfajor is essentially a cookie sandwich that has a crumbly, melt in your mouth texture and usually sandwiched with creamy, thick dulce de leche (a Latin American type of caramel sauce). Wooden Table makes the traditional vanilla version and other unique flavors that incorporates in the American palate like chocolate covered, snickerdoodle, meringue, and others. Like any artisanally baked good, they don’t have a very long shelf life and frankly, how can you resist eating these cookies?
UNNA is based in New York City and bakes up six types of amazing Swedish style cookies. These are the kind of cookies you would want to have with a cup of tea or coffee (or what the Swedes call it fika for a coffee break with usually with sweets). The ginger snaps are spicy and has a relatively strong note of clove in it besides the sweet molasses. The raspberry cave is a familiar cookie – a buttery, crumbly cookie filled with sweet-tart raspberry jam. I adore the crisp chocolate caramel since it’s crisp and has beautiful flavor tones of cocoa and sweet, slightly burnt caramel. The Farmer’s Cookie was a group favorite as it’s heavily studded with almonds and a particular caramelized sugar flavor from the Swedish golden syrup. The vanilla dream is a vanilla shortbread cookie of your dreams; crisp yet crumbly cookie with a hint of high quality butter and vanilla. The cardamom crisp is similar to a biscotti by its thick slices and crisp texture but the unique floral-spice flavor of cardamom takes over.
Madyson’s Marshmallows started out by the curiosity of the owners’ daughter named Madyson, wanting to know how to make marshmallows. Their marshmallows are indeed fresh, fluffy and delicious. There aren’t any strange artificial flavors and the sweetness is just right.
The brand Chocolate Stars USA oversees various baked goods and confectionery brands. The Cartwright & Butler biscuits (the British term for cookies) were tasty and kept in handsome tins evoking an old-time feeling. The Havana Alfajores were very decadent and easily shared with another person as it’s so rich with chocolate and caramel. The single origin chocolates from Frederic Blondeel were fantastic.
Josephine’s Feast is a small batch, handmade confiture maker based in New York by the proprietor Laura O’Brien. The collection of jams and preserves are seasonal and sustainable. The collection is made limited quantities from local fruits using traditional slow cooking methods. All of the confitures are made with low sugar and some are uniquely flavored like the Ginger-Spiced Carrot Jam With Drunken Raisins, which O’Brien developed when faced with a bounty of carrots one fall. The carrot jam is more of a relatively sweet relish than a jam you’d slather on your toast. The peach preserves spike with cinnamon is fantastic on a fresh baked scone or toast. The other fruit preserves and marmalades are equally sublime and I can easily imagine some will be fantastic to be cooked with meats or layered in cakes or pastries.
Rare Bird Preserves
create traditional and unique flavored jams, curds, and preserves based on French tradition, with only the highest quality seasonal fruit and their own naturally extracted pectin. The Earl Grey Fig was very thick and loaded with fig fruit with a good balance of the bergamot flavors found in Earl Grey tea to lighten up the dense fig flavor. The passion fruit curd was a beautifully luscious curd that had the needed brightness of the passion fruit to cut through the rich curd.
Batch PDX is an artisanal chocolate brand based in Portland, Oregon by its proprietor Jeremy Karp. Karp uses pure ingredients, great technique, and classic yet creative flavor combinations that make these chocolates some of the most exquisite I’ve tasted in quite some time. The two particular flavors that resonates in our memories were the Vietnamese Iced Coffee and Yuzu Gimlet but do keep in mind that all the other flavors were very good.
AKA Coffee is a coffee roastery based out in Oakland, CA that has an interesting but unfortunate legal history from its former brand Supersonic. Despite of that kerfuffle, they do roast delicious coffee beans. The flagship OMG espresso beans were beautifully roasted and blended to create this balance of acid, earthiness and it had this natural affinity to milk. The La Bella, Guatemala beans (which is part of the OMG blend) brews a wonderful rich flavored, medium-bodied cup of joe.
Land & Water Coffee is Santa Rosa, CA based coffee roastery that does a fantastic job sourcing their beans. The Papua New Guinea beans brew cups of fruity-floral but clean, mild flavor coffee with balanced acidity. Godspeed blend a blend of coffees that could satisfy the big body coffee drinkers and the bright juicy coffee drinkers. It works beautifully with milk, French press, and pour-over. The Ethiopia beans are Yirgacheffe-style Ethiopia that has strong stone fruit and floral notes. It’s bright and fruity with nice acidity that is welcoming for my morning cup of coffee.
Hario Shizuku Slow Drip Brewer is the latest coffeemaker product from the famed Japanese glass company. This particular slow drip coffeemaker is to be a bit more consumer friendly for the average coffee drinker rather than their extensive line of coffee makers that can go to the obsessive level for the coffee nerd (like myself). All you have to do is to weigh and grind about 50 grams of coffee, place it in the metal filter basket and place the small round paper filter. Add the top half of the coffemaker that contains the slow dripper valve and the water. Within one to two hours, you’d have cold brew (technically, room temp brew) coffee that has all of the aromas and flavors you’d want in your cup of coffee (depending upon the coffee beans’ freshness, blend/origin, etc.).
Ippodo NY is the multiple centuries’ old Japanese tea brand (and we are big fans of their matcha) and this year, they have the beginner’s matcha gift set available for the holiday season. It includes the bamboo whisk and the Enishi-No-Shiro matcha tea that gives a lighter, refreshing taste with a noticeable astringency.
DoMatcha is a Canadian based matcha brand that sources authentic Japanese matcha from Uji, Kyoto. Their organic matchas (culinary and ceremonial) are excellent to bake and drink as they are high quality and the flavors of the matcha are vibrant.
Jade Leaf Matcha is a matcha tea brand that works with organically growing matcha farms and try to make it approachable (price-wise) to the consumer since high quality matcha can be expensive. The cups of matcha brewed here are indeed delicious and has a nice grassy notes and acidity. The culinary matcha is very good as well as it gives both the preferred bright green color of the matcha as well as the flavors showing quite nicely in the cakes I’ve baked.
For those who want a bit more familiar kind of tea (as in tea leaves one would steep), Palais des Thés release their annual No.25 holiday edition tea blends. The red tin called Thé des Délices, is a black tea blend of tart citrus peel, candied mandarins, and rich cocoa nibs. The gold tin, Christmas black tea No.25 is a Sri Lankan black tea mixed with vanilla pods, almonds, cinnamon, ginger, orange peel and lemon zest. Both tea blends make you feel like it’s the holidays with the flavors of spices and citrus.
Yakami Orchards is one of my favorite Japanese brands for perfectly sweet-tart and flavorful yuzu marmalade, yuzu puree and yuzu juices but they also make an excellent ginger marmalade.
The Haku brand creates a product line of special shoyu (or soy sauces) that are super clean and flavorful without being salty or sodium heavy. I can imagine it would be fantastic with sushi or sashimi. The uniquely flavored black garlic and matsutake mushroom shoyus are delicious to mix with plain noodles but despite their distinctive flavors, it’s quite delicate and the sodium levels are not intense either.
Houseware & Cookware
You’d normally associate Breville with kitchen electronics but they actually make very sturdy and dependable cooking pans. Their Thermal Pro Stainless Steel 5-quart Sauté Pan and Thermal Pro Hard-Anodized 4-quart Saucier are made with tri-ply aluminum and steel clad construction joined to a warp-resistant, magnetic stainless steel base, makes it durable and induction suitable. The cookware’s even-heating aluminum core flawlessly conducts and controls heat even as ingredients are added and removed. The stylish tapered curve of the pan’s interior enables easy utensil access around the base as you cook, stir and clean. The mirror-polished stainless steel exterior delivers timeless kitchen style and dishwasher-safe cleanability.
Wüsthof Classic 8-inch Über Cook’s Knife is named due to its ability to chop, slice, dice and mince a vast array of ingredients with effortless speed and precision. It’s a great all-purpose knife and it has a new shape to create a smoother motion for all chopping, mincing and dicing tasks. The recessed-bolster design creates a more comfortable, ergonomic grip. This modified bolster also allows for use of the entire length of the blade for greater efficiency and more effective sharpening.
The handsome Anolon Damascus 5-piece knife set contains a 3.5-inch Paring Knife, 5-inch Santoku Knife, 8-inch Bread Knife, 8-inch Chef’s Knife and Acacia Wood Storage Block. The Damascus knives are precision-forged using 67 layers of steel and iron for exceptional durability, beauty and performance. Featuring a sturdy, full-tang design that ensures exceptional balance – a hallmark of quality cutlery – the new collection’s stone-finished blades are razor-sharp to effortlessly cut, slice, mince, and dice all types of ingredients.
Nordic Ware creates some of the best baking pans that are made in the U.S. and it’s still a family owned operation since 1946. Nordic Ware’s signature pans are the bundt pans of various beautiful designs and patterns but they also create other very useful pans of other shapes and sizes. These are a must if you have a serious (or budding) baker in your life.
Bonjour has released some new items for the holiday season (and great timing) for the holiday party with insulated glass latte cups, a large 6-cup stovetop espresso maker (perfect for the hostess), and single-serve tea brewers in cool colors for the guest who wants tea but not necessarily need a large pot of it.
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