Stimulate the taste buds with these food-related gifts
It’s great to eat at outstanding restaurants, but it can be just as fun to enjoy great food and drink at home.
It’s great to travel around to different locales, eat at outstanding restaurants, and try new dishes. But it can be just as fun to enjoy great food and drink in the comfort of your own abode, especially for those who fancy themselves a great home cook – so we’ve curated a gift guide for people who love both.
From visiting the place where some of the world’s best caviar is raised, to a charcuterie selection from a legendary New York shop, to Japanese knives that chefs love, these selections can feed their sense of adventure, give them a little help when their hosting friends for dinner, or improve their skills in the kitchen.
## The Royal treatment
Price: US$60,000 ($A79,000)
In northern Belgium, one unique farm has gone from down-market to highbrow. Once a place where the cheap commodity fish tilapia was raised, the aquaculture facility is now used by Royal Belgian Caviar to nurture sturgeon and harvest some of the world’s finest caviar.
Here, sturgeon in tanks swim for years in conditions that marine biologist Willy Verdonck and his wife, Mia Verdonck, have carefully honed to allow them to thrive. “It’s all controlled: light, water quality, food, everything. They create a great environment,” says Rod Browne Mitchell, founder of Browne Trading Co. in Portland, Maine. The Verdoncks have employed cutting-edge technology to provide the fish with the most pampered existence possible, all of which pays off on the palate. “They’re pioneers in farm-raising caviar,” says Mitchell. “With wild caviar you get different qualities and tastes. Here they get all the same food and light, and these fish don’t have to worry about anything. The taste, texture, and colour tone of the caviar is consistently great.”
That’s no faint praise. For years, Mitchell’s company has been a go-to supplier of fine caviar for some of the United States’ best chefs, from Thomas Keller to Eric Ripert. And after he got the opportunity to try the Verdoncks’ product, Mitchell became the exclusive U.S. importer of Royal Belgian’s Osetra, Platinum, Gold Label, and White Pearl caviar.
Mitchell is offering a Robb Report reader more than just a tin of roe. He’ll give the gift’s recipient and one guest an exclusive tour of this groundbreaking home of delicious caviar, to experience how the finest varieties are made. “It looks simple, but it takes true expertise to know when the caviar is ripe and how to cure it properly,” says Mitchell.
While at the Royal Belgian farm, the recipients can join the mature, friendly sturgeon in the water for the fish to playfully swim around their legs. They’ll be there to help Royal Belgian’s experts harvest the eggs from the fish, clean and sort them, and learn to cure the caviar firsthand. The recipients will leave with tins of the caviar they have personally cured. Mitchell will then curate and send 1 kilogram of black gold selected from Browne’s full premium assortment from around the world every month for a year, to keep the memory of the gastronomic adventure fresh long after the recipient has returned home.
## The cheese pleaser
Price: US$250 ($A330)
Creating the perfect cheese and charcuterie board is an art. There’s an interplay between the styles of cheese, the meats chosen, and the accoutrement that pull the whole spread together. For New Yorkers, that can mean a delicious trip to Murray’s Cheese in Greenwich Village to speak with the shop’s experts and test out the myriad combinations — but sadly not everyone is blessed with such time and proximity. Fortunately, Murray’s has that covered, too.
With the Weekend at Murray’s set, the famed, 77-year-old cheese shop packs a stellar collection of nearly 1 kilogram of meat, 1 kilogram of cheese, and crackers and preserves into an insulated box to ensure it arrives on your doorstep fresh. Inside, there’s nutty L’Etivaz, creamy Leonora, Iberico de Bellota chorizo, Devodier prosciutto, and more. It’s the perfect start to any party or a charcuterie connoisseur’s board to hoard.
## Making the cut
Price: US$199 ($A260)
In Japan, the city of Sakai has been known for making blades for more than the last 600 years. At one point that meant samurai swords, but now the industrial town in Osaka is known for kitchen knives. For the last 70 years Sakai Takayuki has been part of the latter group, crafting a wide range of knives that are great for professionals and home cooks alike.
The company’s Damascus line of blades features 45 layers of steel forged and then polished to beautiful effect. A two-piece set available through Chubo Knives features an 20cm chef’s knife and a 15cm utility knife. The longer gyutou blade is a kitchen workhorse — slicing, cutting, and chopping through fish, meat, and vegetables with ease. The smaller utility blade is light and nimble, perfect for dealing with smaller foods where more control of the blade is needed — like when deboning a chicken leg or slicing a shallot. Both knives come with really sharp blades right out of the box and comfortable handles that make wielding them pretty easy.
## Good as gold
Price: US$160 ($A210)
Starting out more than a decade ago by making toffees in Los Angeles with her partner, Stan Weightman Jr., Valerie Gordon has grown her confections company to also create exceptional truffles, chocolate bars, preserves, petit fours, and more. The self-trained Gordon has a knack for harnessing the bounty of L.A.’s farmers markets to craft sweets with imaginative flavour profiles. Around the holidays, she curates a selection of her seasonal offerings into an elegant gift box and ties it with a satin bow.
Along with peppermint bark, chocolate bars studded with dried fruit and nuts, and Christmas jam, Valerie’s Extravagant Winter Gift Set includes evergreen truffles, hot chocolate, and eggnog petit fours. For the truffles, Gordon infuses chocolate ganache with mint and then dips it in white chocolate. The petit fours are made from layers of spiced butter cake with bourbon ganache and are then hand-dipped in white chocolate and topped with chocolate biscuit pearls and edible 23-karat gold.
## Perfect casting
Price: US$245–$425 ($320-$560)
Inspired by the way cast-iron pans used to be made back in the early 1900s, Butter Pat Industries and its founder, Dennis Powell, set themselves on taking this cookware staple and making it great. Those 20th-century culinary instruments could reliably be handed down through the generations, but when Powell accidentally cracked his grandmother’s 40-year-old pan, he realised he couldn’t just go to the store to replace it. The new pans on the market were too heavy, thick, and rough compared to the one he wanted to use. Powell then created a version that was thin yet still strong and able to conduct heat evenly like a great cast-iron pan should do. He also made the surface much smoother than modern cast-iron versions, so that perfect batch of cornbread won’t ever stick. Butter Pat now sells its pans in 20-, 25-, and 30cm sizes.
## Pillars of salt
Price: US$350 ($A460)
From a tucked-away bay on the Oregon coast, Ben Jacobsen makes some of the best salt you’ll ever taste. Far from the sodium in the shaker at your local diner, Jacobsen creates beautiful, flaky, briny crystals of sea salt that are the perfect final touch to a dish.
When he first started harvesting seawater to make his salt, he experimented with multiple spots along the Oregon coast, eventually selecting Netarts Bay. With few freshwater inputs, the bay has high salinity, which is great for harvesting. In addition, oyster farms in the bay help filter the water to make the salt more pristine.
Jacobsen started infusing his salt with herbs, spices, other flavours to create blends that could finish specific dishes. He partnered with Williams Sonoma to create a collection of 25 infused salts all in one set. Among the flavours are rosemary (to sprinkle on fried calamari), habanero (to add to carnitas tacos), and Pinot Noir (a perfect complement to braised beef). It’s a great gift for home cooks who wants to take their flavors to the next level.
## Vice before virtue
Price: $79.95/month ($A105) (with 12-month prepay)
A bunch of subscription boxes have popped up over the last few years that will send you shirts, pants, or perhaps even random snacks to eat at your desk at work. They all feel much more utilitarian than fun. So instead of buying a subscription of one of those other boxes this holiday season, give a gift that lets the recipient indulge a little bit each month. With a Robb Vices subscription, each month a beautiful, expertly curated box of culinary will arrive, each one based on a theme. One month the box may contain the whiskey, bitters, dried oranges, simple syrup, and tumblers needed to enjoy the perfect old fashioned. Another box may contain a smoking gun that lets you infuse your food and cocktails with the aroma and flavour of hickory or Applewood.
## Straight from the source
Price: Starting at US$15,000 ($A19,750)
Instead of giving the coffee connoisseur in your life a bag of beloved beans, go for something a bit more personal — and a lot more unique — by presenting them with a chance to create their very own custom blend in Costa Rica.
The plush Nayara Springs hotel will be the home base for this 5-night journey into the heart of coffee country. The recipient and a guest will be whisked far away from their local café and into a breezy villa, complete with a private infinity pool, that can be accessed from the road or via a 76-metre pedestrian bridge suspended above the rainforest. After settling in with a volcanic mud wrap at the open-air spa (one treatment a day is included), the recipients will be escorted by one of the property’s expert baristas to a local coffee farm where they will learn how the beans are harvested, roasted, and ground. Once they have tasted all of the different beans, they will create a custom blend — a fresh bag of which will be delivered to them every month for the next year.
After revving up on caffeine, they can enjoy off-property activities ranging from canyoneering to befriending a sloth at the resort’s own sloth sanctuary to soaking in the EcoTermales hot springs. They will head home both fully caffeinated and utterly relaxed.