December 11, 2013

Soup to Nuts: Local gift ideas for the foodie on your list

From artisanal flatbread crisps to Cranberry Gin to seasoned pistachios, here are ideas for especially tasteful holiday gifts.

By Meredith Goad mgoad@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

When it comes to shopping local for the holidays, especially when you’re on the hunt for food-related gifts, those of us who live in Maine are luckier than a hungry elf trapped in a gingerbread factory.

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Fiore, a Maine company that imports ultra-premium extra-virgin olive oils, aged balsamic vinegars and other products, recently opened a new store at 58 Main St. in Freeport.

Photos by John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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The Harbor Candy Shop in Ogunquit sells malted milk balls in a variety of flavors, including raspberry, mint chip, peanut butter, blueberry and, of course, milk and dark chocolate.

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Looking for some boozy cheer to add to someone’s stocking? We’ve got Sweetgrass Farm’s Cranberry Gin, which is not only tasty but a lovely Merry Christmas red as well.

Want to share some Maine holiday spirit with friends and relatives from away? Check out Cranberry Island Kitchen’s Peppermint Whoopie Pie Cake, which just won an Editors’ Choice award in Yankee Magazine’s holiday food issue. (Full disclosure: I haven’t tried it, but it looks amazing.)

For the past few years, I’ve shared with you some of my favorites – local products I’ve discovered during the previous 12 months that would make great stocking stuffers or hostess gifts for people who love food. After the first couple of goes at this, I expanded my definition of “local” to mean regional. Last year, for example, Eden Ice Cider from Vermont made the list. This year, even the regional rule is being stretched a bit, for reasons you’ll understand later in this column.

One rule that will never change: Anything recommended here, once a year, is something I have personally sampled and liked. So, although we may have different tastes and you’ll have a different opinon, you won’t find any random, PR-driven selections here that I only know about because someone sent me an email begging me to promote their product.

One final word before we reach into Santa’s bag of goodies: If you know of a food or food-related product from Maine or northern New England that’s widely available but still relatively new, email me. I’m already on the hunt for next year.

CRAQUELINS

Most are $6.99-$7.50 per 4.5- or 5-ounce package online; gluten-free are $8.99.

(To learn about the crackers, go to crackerlicious.com/index.html. To order crackers, go to thecracklinstore.mybigcommerce.com.)

Available online, at The Cheese Iron in Scarborough and at numerous locations in Portsmouth, N.H. See website for a list.

Diane Romagnoli considers her artisanal flatbread crisps “my own little artwork.”

Lots of restaurants are making their own crackers now, but if you want restaurant quality at home, check out these delicious, crispy, handmade crackers that are produced in a bakery in Concord, N.H. They are long and beautiful, topped with black and white sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds or wild rice that give them color, texture and crunch. Two or three packages bound together with a bright red bow would make a great hostess gift at a holiday party.

There are 20 flavors, believe it or not, including some gluten-free varieties. Try the Roasted Potato and Chive cracker with a cup of clam chowder. The Black and Whites pair well with charcuterie, and the Spicy Ten Seed (which “tastes like an everything bagel with a good crunch”) loves hummus. The Tuscan goes well with aged Italian cheeses, while the Cheesy Pleesy Jalapeno Cheddar is a good dipping cracker, especially for guacamole.

There’s even a line for craft beer drinkers that includes a Curried Toasted Sesame Ginger, a cracker Romagnoli says goes well with India Pale Ale.

Romagnoli has been making and selling Craquelins for three years now. She made her first batch for her daughter-in-law’s baby shower, and a family feud broke out over the leftovers. Romagnoli watched guests from New Hampshire and New York fighting over crackers, figured she was onto something, “and that’s how this whole thing got started.”

All of the crackers are handmade, hand-cut and hand-topped in small batches, and there are no artificial ingredients. Even the potatoes that go into some of the crackers are hand-cut and roasted.

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Diane Romagnoli's Craquelins are artisanal flatbread crisps topped with different seeds to give them color, texture and crunch.

John Patriquin/StaffPhotographer

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Cookbooks, like this one from Harbor fish Market, are always at hit.

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Allagash Brewing Co. also has its own cookbook.

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Chef Harding Lee Smith, back right, chats with participants in a tour of his restaurants offered by Portland Taste Tours.

Courtesy of Tyler Aldrich/Machigonne Photography

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Seasoned pistachios from the Gilded Nut snack Co. come in four flavors: original, Mediterranean herb, habanero heat and sea salt and pepper.

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Sweetgrass Farm's Cranberry Gin is tasty and, bonus, a lovely Merry Christmas red as well.

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Cranberry Island Kitchen's Peppermint Whoopie Pie Cake just won an "Editor's Choice" award in Yankee Magazine's holiday food issue.

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