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Hit 'buy,' and let the prosciutto and coffee beans fly
Amazing handmade bonbons from one of the best chocolatiers in California. Three artisan cheeses at peak deliciousness delivered every month to your favorite fromage fan. A whole prosciutto made in Iowa from Kurobuta pigs raised there. These gifts would make any food lover swoon, but you won't find them in L.A.'s toniest gourmet shops -- they're only available online. We searched the Internet for the most enticing edible gifts around and turned up an irresistible selection.
FOR THE RECORD:
Gift guide: An article in the Nov. 28 Food section said a Murray's Cheese of the Month subscription included shipping. It does not; shipping costs vary depending on delivery location. —
We were surprised to find that e-commerce seems to have gotten stuck in the last century -- some of these sites require filling in forms and choosing passwords simply to begin shopping, or they're hard to navigate. (If you're looking for Floriano Turco chestnut honey from Italy on Formaggio Kitchen's site, don't try searching for "chestnut honey"; you'll have to enter "Floriano.") Still, everything arrived on time as promised, and as delectable as we hoped. And we didn't have to go to the Grove!
How often does it pay to be lazy?
5-pound box of Medjool dates from Hadley Fruit Orchards. Who needs marrons glacés -- the French candied chestnuts, traditional for Christmas -- when you can get locally grown Medjool dates from Hadley? You know the place -- it's where you stop for date shakes on the way to Palm Springs. The crop this season is stellar, and these are plump, sweet, rich and velvety -- really like candy. And unlike marrons glacés, they don't cost an arm and a leg. $35.95 plus shipping for a 5-pound box at www.hadleyfruitorchards.com.
Murray's Cheese of the Month subscription. Cheesemonger Murray's Cheese in New York's Greenwich Village ships out three precisely handled half-pound cheeses on the second Wednesday of the month to cheese-of-the-month members (sometimes they're special selections not available to even the locals or chefs). January's shipment includes Petit Sorcier, a wheel of raw cow's milk cheese from producer-affineur Chaput, with a pungent rind and a line of ash running through the center; Jasper Hill Farm Constant Bliss, a raw Ayrshire cow's milk cheese; and "goaty gumdrops" of fresh Bijou from Vermont Butter & Cheese Co. Available at www.murrayscheese.com; four months, $200; six months, $300; 12 months, $550, includes shipping.
La Quercia Rossa prosciutto. Made by artisans Herb and Kathy Eckhouse in Norwalk, Iowa, this ham, made from Berkshire (also known as Kurobuta) pork has a wonderful, silky texture and a deep, rich flavor. Though you find it on the salumi platter at a few of L.A.'s top restaurants, you can't find it in stores (but you can find the company's prosciutto americano). The only way to get it is to order one from La Quercia's website. You have to buy a whole ham (6 to 8 pounds), but what a fantastic gift for someone who owns a meat slicer. $23.95 per pound, including two-day shipping within the continental United States; www.laquercia.us.
Frog Hollow Farms preserves. The tree-ripened fruit from Al Courchesne's 133 acres of peaches, plums, apricots, nectarines, cherries, pluots and pears is turned into thick, luscious conserves, jellies, marmalades and chutneys. The apricot conserve is made from the Northern California farm's organic Goldensweet apricots. In the cherry conserve are whole pitted sweet cherries. The peach conserve is delicious smeared on a knob of bread, maybe with a little cultured butter, or even without it. Cherry, peach and apricot conserve three-pack, $22 plus shipping at www.froghollow.com.
Consorcio fish assortment. Darrell Corti, proprietor of Corti Bros. Grocers and Wine Merchants in Sacramento, has lately become the exclusive importer for Consorcio Español Conservo, producer of outstanding tuna conserves, such as ventresca de atún (tuna belly), entremés de bonito (a wonderful bonito pâté) and bonito del norte (white tuna), as well as sardinillas (baby sardines) and terrific filetes de anchoa (anchovies). The website is fun to shop, offering an eclectic selection that includes guanciale (cured pork jowl), Oshima Island salt from Japan and Ting grapefruit soda. But it's pretty bare-bones. "If Darrell had his way, we'd be using abacuses here," says his personal assistant, Rick Mindermann. For instance, finding the way to order the Consorcio line is tricky: If you click on the home page box that says "tuna from Consorcio," you'll be led to believe you can't order it online. Instead, you have to click on the box on the left side of the home page that says "Corti Brothers Newsletter for September 2007 is now online." Scroll to the bit about Consorcio, and order from there. Ventresca de atún, $8.99 for a 112-gram tin, $24.95 for a 320-gram tin; entremés de bonito, $4.99 for a 115-gram tin; bonito del norte loins, $13.49 for an 8-ounce jar; sardinillas in olive oil, $2.99 for an 85-gram tin; filetes de anchoa, Seleccion Platino, $9.99 for a 50-gram tin. All plus shipping, at www.cortibros.biz.
Chocolates from Xuan. These are the perfect chocolates: refined, not too big, not overly sweet, expertly crafted, with clear flavors and great textures -- the delicate coatings snap and the melt-in-your-mouth ganaches are luscious. Pastry chef Xuan Ngo makes chocolates by hand in flavors such as Earl Grey, Madagascar vanilla, ginger, hazelnut praline, passion fruit and kalamansi lime; the fleur de sel caramel chocolates are out of this world. Ngo is just getting his business going; orders are available by e-mail through his website, www.xuanpatisserie.com. Box of 12 is $22; shipping is free until Christmas with orders of three or more boxes.
Lambda olive oil. For the cook who has everything, consider, if your pockets are deep, this ultra-premium olive oil from Greece. The bottle is gorgeous, and the olive oil, fresh and fruity, pressed from Koroneiki olives grown in the Kritsa region, is brilliant. You might want to have it sent to yourself, though -- there's a two-bottle minimum, and it comes in a wooden box that has to be pried open. (If you didn't know a glass bottle was inside, you might shatter it trying to open the box.) About $100 for two 500-milliliter bottles, plus shipping, from www.speironcompany.com.
Ethiopian Yrga Cheffe coffee from Jones Coffee Roasters. When the Food section tasting panel sampled coffees roasted by local artisans last year, we were wowed by these single-origin beans from a roaster in Pasadena. The medium-bodied coffee is well-balanced yet nicely assertive, with lovely floral and citrus aromas and delicious caramel flavors. We love visiting the Jones roastery -- it's always fun engaging in bean talk with the Joneses (Mireya and her son Chuck), who have a family coffee farm in Guatemala, but they offer a pretty amazing deal on their website: If you buy at least 5 pounds of any coffee, you'll get it wholesale. So the Yrga Cheffe, which is $13.25 per pound, is only $7.95 per pound (plus shipping) if you buy 5 pounds -- and what a marvelous gift! At www.thebestcoffee.com.
Danish Viking-smoked sea salt from Salt Traders. We discovered this intense smoked salt at Bastide, where chef Walter Manzke sent a tiny dish of it out to accompany the meat course -- use just a couple of grains, and wow! $12 plus shipping for a 1.5-ounce jar, www.salttraders.com.
Hard-to-find ingredients from Formaggio Kitchen. A web search for Turkish peppers we needed to make some dishes in Anna Sortun's wonderful cookbook "Spice" led us to Formaggio Kitchen. The famous Cambridge, Mass., cheese store turns out to be a terrific source not only for handcrafted cheeses, but also for spices, oils, jams, cured meats and other artisanal and hard-to-find products. You can even take a virtual tour of the shop online. It has lentils from Le Puy in France, the best small green ones with their own appellation contrôlée, and outstanding organic chestnut honey from the Italian Alps, with deep flavor and a lovely, vaguely bitter finish. And those Turkish peppers are wonderful: Maras is a brilliant deep red, with a tantalizing, subtle heat. Urfa is dark and smoky, with a more complex, lingering heat. Use them in meatballs, in tomato sauce and soups, with kale and other greens, just about anywhere. Formaggio also sells pungent single-estate black peppercorns grown on the Wynad Plateau in Kerala, India, (perfect for caccio e pepe or steak au poivre) and piment d'espelette from French Basque country -- great as a more nuanced alternative to cayenne. Sabarot lentilles du Puy, $10.95 for a 500-gram box; Floriano Turco chestnut (castagno) honey, $23.95 for a 500-gram jar; Maras and Urfa Turkish dried peppers, $5.95 each for a 4-ounce container; Parameswaran's special Wynad peppercorns, $25.95 for a 200-gram bag; piment d'espelette, $19.95 for a 4-ounce container, all plus shipping, from Formaggio Kitchen, www.formaggiokitchen.com.
Madagascar Bourbon vanilla pods. These Euro Vanille brand vanilla pods -- more than half a pound of them -- are harvested by hand; the green pods (the fruit from an orchid) are cured and dried for several months, and what you end up with are beautiful black-brown pods. These are large and plump and moist, heady with the scent of vanilla. There are about 50 in a package, more than enough to get you through the holidays; as for the rest, keep them in an airtight container in the refrigerator or in the freezer until you need them. $48.25 for 8.8 ounces at www.lepicerie.com.
Times staff writer S. Irene Virbila contributed to this article.