Ah, the holidays: An intoxicating elixir of family, friends, celebration and just a tiny dash of gift-related panic to keep things interesting. We ask: If you’re going to give, why not give food? And if food, why not something both fantastic and local? Thus: We’re pleased to present 2011’s Heavy Table Holiday Gift Guide.
Got a cheese lover on your list? Our local cheese shops stock such a wide variety of excellent Midwestern cheeses that you don’t have to automatically reach for the brie and call it a day. Instead, try an all-Minnesota cheeseboard that will be gobbled up faster than your turkey dinner.
We put together a tasty trio of Bent River ($22 / lb at Surdyk’s), a Camembert-style cheese from Mankato’s Alemar Cheese Company that stands head to head with similar French variations. Spring for an entire wheel — one sliver of creamy, oozy goodness from the wedge is never enough. Add a chunk of Friesago ($19 / lb at Surdyk’s) from Shepherd’s Way to bring the rich warmth of a sheep’s-milk cheese to the board, and round out the selection with Northern Lights Blue ($14.49 / lb at Surdyk’s), a raw-milk cheese that wows with its creamy texture and flavorful blue veins. Throw a couple of apples in a basket and a sampler of Ames honey ($19 at Surdyk’s) and you’ve not only given someone a thoughtful gift — you’ve supplied the food for his or her holiday cocktail party.
If you’re looking to keep your cheeses straight and introduce them to guests, a set of writable cheese tags is just the ticket. The Heavy Table worked with local ceramic artisan Katharine Gotham at the Northern Clay Center to create these elegant porcelain cheese tags that can be written on (and erased, and re-written on) with markers. The theme is the Upper Midwest — each set includes a Minnesota, a Wisconsin, and a triangular shape. Learn more about them and buy them right over here.
The next North Coast Nosh purveyor sip-and-sample takes place Jan. 20, 2012 and it should be a tremendous event — more than 20 vendors including Patisserie 46, YumMi Banh Mi, Joia Soda, Lift Bridge Brewing, Black Forest Inn, and Chowgirls Killer Catering will be joining us at the beautiful and spacious South Minneapolis headquarters of Open Arms of Minnesota. Everyone will bring samples, so no one should walk away hungry (or thirsty).
If you’re tired of giving stuff to people, give tickets to the next Nosh, instead — you’ll help support the local food scene, The Heavy Table, Open Arms, and your friend or family member’s first-hand knowledge of delicious Midwestern eats.
Though beloved Rogue Chocolatier relocated from Minneapolis to Massachusetts this year, you can still find delicious, locally made chocolate treats — particularly for fans of dark chocolate. Madison-based Gail Ambrosius crafts both whimsical (chocolate frogs, $6 for a package of two at Surdyk’s) and hardcore chocolate confections (70 percent cacao Colombian dark chocolate nibs bar, $5 / each at Surdyk’s). For those who prefer a burst of sweetness with their dark chocolate, pick up a three-pack of Mademoiselle Miel’s honey bonbons ($7 at Surdyk’s). St. Paul beekeeper Susan Brown places a dollop of Ames honey inside a super-dark chocolate shell topped with gold leaf for a decadent yet balanced bite. And for that special someone who can’t choose between caramels and beer, now you don’t have to search for two gifts — pick up a handful of Surly Furious caramels (75 cents each) at Local D’Lish. Produced by Sweet Goddess Chocolates in New Prague, these tasty chews offer the hoppy flavor of the beer together with the sticky sweetness of a buttery caramel.
A sleeve of shortbread is easy to slide into a stocking, and St. Paul-based A Gourmet Thyme sells several fun flavors at Local D’Lish ($6.75). The cayenne seems tame at first, but the kick comes through when you swallow, and you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t enjoy the espresso cocoa nib flavor. For someone who prefers man the oven him- or herself, pick up a tin of Lacey Sue Z. ($8.29 at Surdyk’s), a chocolate chip cookie mix created by local food legend Sue Zelickson. The almost translucent, wafer-type cookies not only offer a buttery, brown sugary crunch, but they also benefit St. Louis Park social services agency Perspectives.
If it’s your first holiday season since a friend or relative moved out of state, put together a Minnesota care package to send him or her a taste of home. The Secret Garden, a gourmet packaged foods producer based in Park Rapids, combines beans and Minnesota wild rice in its Minnesota Minestrone mix ($7.50 at Local D’Lish). Add some strawberry or blackberry jam from Gunflint Trail in Grand Marais ($6.49 at Surdyk’s) and some Bliss pumpkin spice granola ($8 at Local D’Lish), and he or she may decide to move back.
James Norton contributed to this story.