You’ve never tasted proper Balsamic vinegar. Really I’m telling you that you haven’t. This is the real stuff, La Tradizione from Modena, a cooperative of craftsmen: dark, thick, syrupy, caramel, fruity, figgy, aged. It only comes in two shapes of bottle. Genuine Balsamic vinegar is expensive, and this is a complete Christmas treat. Too good for salads, drizzle it on cheese, into avocado, over strawberries. You can buy the bottles from La Tradizione from £12 to £155. One I tried (on the left) was aged for 12 years and costs £46 which I know is a lot of money but I can assure you it is worth it and would make a very special present.
Cocoa Runners do a monthly chocolate club where you are sent a selection of high quality chocolates from around the world, costing around £200 a year.
Last year I ordered fragrant Meyer lemons (6 for about $30) from Lemon Ladies Orchard who run a citrus farm in California. I made a Meyer lemon meringue pie from them and made a little video of it in my half-hearted bid to be the foodie Zoella. This failed miserably mainly due to frequent on-camera swearing from myself and behind-camera criticism by my darling daughter who was ‘directing’. You never know, I may edit and upload it some day. Still Meyer lemons are ace and virtually impossible to get here in the UK.
From a site I’ve just discovered Citrus and Life, you can order fresh yuzus (around 78 euros) and other exotic citrus.
You can order British grown wasabi , different from horse radish, (from £12.50), the plants and fresh yuzus (about £4 each) is The Wasabi Company.
You could also give a present of a kaffir lime tree £25 (you can use the leaves for Thai curries) or a yuzu tree £40 from Plants4presents.
I’ll be frank, I’m not a coffee person even after my visit to Portland where I tried ‘cupping’, but even I was impressed by the Cafédirect coffee discovery plan, where you pay £7.95 a month and get sent a different coffee every month. So far I’ve tried the Colombian and the Rwandan coffee; I particularly like the latter which is smooth and not too acidic. I’m drinking coffee again as a result. (A cup of coffee a day is good for your health, fights against obesity and diabetes).
I recently went to visit Pomora olive oil in Sicily. You can adopt or foster one of their olive trees for £29 a quarter. Choose from two farmers, Carmelo in Sicily or Antonio. You can even visit the tree.
Now I am a tea person. My mother drinks a cup of tea every 20 minutes and I’m rapidly turning into her. As my palette refines I’m less satisfied with ordinary tea and, like wine, once you’ve had good tea, it’s hard to go back to the factory-floor-shavings tea bags. My favourite teas are by the following people:
The pioneering tea entrepeneur Rare Tea Lady (my blog post on her here) does a monthly tea subscripton which costs £77 a year. Every other month you are sent four different teas.
This year at my historic afternoon tea at Dennis Severs House, I discovered Newby Teas and was extremely impressed by their perfumed black teas such as Earl Grey, Lapsang Suchong and Darjeeling. Even their herbal teas and green teas are good (so often they taste dusty or bitter). Gift sets here.
You could do worse than purchase MsMarmitelover’s Secret Tea Party book as a gift. It’s gorgeous and I wrote it!
I’ve worked with a new company Winetrust100.co.uk over the last couple of years and am consistently impressed with the selection of wines, carefully picked by MW Nick Adams and reasonably priced. Favourite include an Italian Primitivo, Paul Cluver’s Gewurtraminer from South Africa and well-made Chardonnay from Argentina. They do a wine club costing from £96 to £198 per year, if you want to work your way through the list. Eastenders stars and other TV celebrities buy from them.
I love hampers and would like to be buried in something wicker with leather straps and a champagne glass, sort of a death picnic. I also like the fact that you can learn about new foods with a hamper, there is such choice, items known and unknown.
- Italian: Lina Stores in Soho do some cute tins of tomato collections from £18 up to large hampers costing £100
- Posh: Fortnum & Mason’s hampers are world renowned and beautifully packaged. Anything from £55 to £1000.
- Cheffy: one of my favourite online shops souschef.co.uk do book/food hampers with some essential items from the ingredients list in famous cookbooks. Examples include my own V is for Vegan collection at £35, Ivan Ramen’s book and Asian food collection at £85, Sabrina Ghayour’s Persian collection with book £37.50, plus plenty of other inspirational foodie hampers.
- Japanese: the Japan Centre does a big selection of food hampers for making sushi, ramen, tea, miso from £11.95 to £49.99
- Modern: a tin box hamper from Toast £125
- Ethnic: Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem hamper £75
A food tour
A London food tour with chef and cookbook author Celia Brooks (above) is a fantastic experience. You can choose from Borough Market (she is the only official tour), Covent Garden, Portobello or Marylebone. Prices are from £60 to £75, there are plenty of tastings and all specialist diets can be catered for. I went on one of Borough Market in September and even though I’m a Londoner, I learnt new things and tried new foods.