GIFT IDEAS FOR THE MORE REFINED PEOPLE IN YOUR LIFE
At holiday time, you may find yourself shopping not so much for the person who has everything, but for the person who has — shall we say — refined, even discriminating tastes. A person who is so fanatical about a particular food or drink, she considers herself a bit of a connoisseur. Everyone knows someone who fits the description, who could talk for hours about the flavor nuances among coffees and cheeses, who could go on about beers and ales like a person possessed. Rather than roll your eyes and pray they’ll get over themselves, try indulging your favorite foodie/gourmet. It’s the holidays, after all.
You might not think much about it, but varieties and growing regions of olives for oil are taken just as seriously as are the same factors for wine grapes. (Even the same terminology is in place, i.e., “protected designations of origin” and “cultivars.” ) Unless, however, you want to get a degree in oleology — the olive equivalent of oenology — attempting to choose a gift for the true connoisseur can thrust you into confusion or near-panic. Narrow your selection — and save yourself some grief — by pinpointing a certain growing region. Choose a sampling of oils from Australia, for example. Or If your friend indulges typically only in oils from Italy, offer varieties from Spain, Portugal, Greece, or even Chile (yes, South America is a player.)
A glance at flavor descriptors can also guide your selection. Words like “fruity,” “smooth,” “spicy,’ and “buttery” are commonplace in product descriptions. Some olive oil labels even offer usage suggestions, i.e., “for drizzling on pasta, fish, seafood.” Consider assembling a few small bottles, one for each stage of the meal. For example, an oil for dipping bread, an oil for dressing salad, one for drizzling on seafood, and one for cooking purposes.
Or let your patriotism shine and offer your pal of the well-developed palate an array of oils — organic, even — from sunny California. In any case, sleuthing out a quality purveyor is essential. If there are no olive oil specialty shops where you live, a search of the Internet will turn up quite a few.
It’s definitely hip to be “into” coffee, but you can tell a true devotee from a slacker who’s following the pack — and the hype. if your friend or relative can’t stop chatting about bean origin and small-batch roasting techniques, he may be a candidate for a specialty coffee gift. It’s true, Starbuck offers packaged versions of its popular roasts, but don’t overlook smaller vendors like Blue Bottle, Peet’s and Red Roaster. Though it may be more personal to consult in person at a retail location, many smaller roasteries sell their coffees online. The product descriptions alone are enough to make anyone swoon: “Strawberry, with notes of lavender and vanilla,” or “milk chocolate sweetness with ripe melon nuance, balanced by a subtle, pleasing vanilla finish.” (If you’re not careful, you might get swept away by the romance of it all.)
Choose from among single-origin coffees or carefully crafted blends. Many purveyors, at holiday time especially, offer pre-packaged selections to satisfy even the most particular palate.
An in-budget gift idea is a single-serve coffee maker (perfect for the office or at-home).
BEERS & ALES
Artisanal beers and ales are all the rage these days. Even large breweries are getting into the action, by way of acquisition. With more than 3,400 small craft breweries in the U.S. alone, the beer connoisseur can lay claim to the proverbial fairyland of choices. The downside? You’ve got to get a handle on the pertinent laws, mostly by state, relative to shipping alcohol.
Beers are typically made from barley, but wheat, rye, corn, and (gluten-free) sorghum are also grain candidates. There are even beers made with cherries, pumpkin and nuts! In addition, variations in fermentation, bottling and aging, among other factors, make for differences in flavor, color and consistency.
For the traditionalist, put together a small selection of specialty beers flavored with fruits or vegetables, just to broaden his palate. Or, choose beers and ales from a given region, like New England or the Pacific Northwest. If you’re in a time crunch, you can even find websites that will assemble and ship a gift of artisan beer for you!
On the other hand, if you’ve managed your time better, consider, in the interest of true small producer mania — and to sidestep legal research — going local, especially if you live in an area where microbreweries are easy to come by. (According to the Brewers’ Association website, “The average American lives within 10 miles of a brewery.”) What could be more heartfelt than the curated gift of brews from the connoisseur’s hometown. Or from a place that holds singular meaning for her, like where she was married, went to college or met her spouse. And don’t forget hard ciders, which are clearly gaining in popularity. A custom six-pack of beers, ales and ciders might be just the thing.
Here is some beer-infused jelly for those true connoisseurs.
The gift of cheese might sound a bit tried and true. But, as in the case of beers, artisan producers all over the country are invigorating the category. And with no legal restrictions against interstate commerce, a cheese-lover’s gift possibilities are myriad.
You might consider offering an array of hard cheeses, like cheddar, gouda, and fontina. But soft cheese should also be on your radar. In addition to stalwarts brie and camembert, why not introduce your cheese-loving friends to chevre or cremet.
And while oh-so-popular mozzarella is made from the milk of the water buffalo, today’s artisan producers are churning out (sorry, couldn’t help it!) specialty cheeses of goat’s milk, sheep’s milk, or a combination of the two. Feel free to let the cheese connoisseur’s expressed tastes be your guide, or give her a gentle nudge beyond her comfort zone with an array of off-the-beaten-path selections.
Of course, the list of foods doesn’t stop there. You can apply the same shopping techniques to vinegars, volcanic and sea salts, ice creams, and more.
Shopping for a food fanatic might have its challenges, requiring some research and forethought. But, as artisan and specialty coffees, cheeses, beers and olive oils swell in popularity, what you learn may be applied to the next round of gift-giving. Besides, having digested so much new information about any food category, you might find yourself, newly converted to the gourmand mind-set, buying specialty food products for your own family. Just take care to make your gift selections first.
For the cheese-lover, here is a beautiful wooden tray that can be used everyday and it creates a “&” when cheese and crackers are displayed. Clever!
This article was written by Daphne O’Neal, contributor for The Daily Clutch.
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