I picked up the December issue of Bon Appetit magazine with hope that I would learn some tricks on how to make some of the things I make for holiday presents look better. I am not a crafty one. I can so many things but put me in the pretty, dainty, and interesting wrapping department and I am lost.
The Bon Appetit headline- Put a lid on it- made me think that I would learn about some fancy lid with a fancy label and an equally fancy ribbon that would make my beautiful preserves or cured lemons or garlic confit look as good as they taste. No such luck. Instead, the magazine listed recipes for would-be gifts that readers get to wrap however they please.
Should you prepare anything for the first time and make that into a holiday present? I say no. That may work for a nine year old who has just found a passion for cooking. It works for the teenager who took on crochet to make a scarf for mom. It does not work if you are an adult with a desire to actually please the person who gets the present. Of course, a recipe you have perfected, your signature toffee, this year’s batch of jams and preserves — those are great. If you don’t have them, however, head on to your local small grocer in Colorado and find some of the best that the local food artisans have created this year.
1. Ritual Chocolate
Single source cacao beans crafted in vintage machinery by Robbie Stout and Anna Davies who channeled a strong passion for exceptional chocolate and a strong commitment to crafting a product that makes them proud. This chocolate made of only two ingredients- cacao beans and cane sugar, which makes it vegan and gluten-free. Two available small-batch varieties, Costa Rica and Madagascar, are as different as they are attractive- smooth and snappy- with earthier notes in the Costa Rica and citrusy ones in the Madagascar.
2. Boxcar Coffee – Whisky Grin
Boxcar, the roastery and coffee shop in Boulder, surely brews the perfect cup of coffee, latte, and more. But there are better news: the beans. Vajra Rich, the master roaster and owner of Boxcar, an admitted gear-head, crafts balancedly roasted beans in a retrofitted vintage German machine. The Whisky Grin, a unique winter blend, combines beans from Indonesia, Africa, and Brazil. The flavor is deep, smokey, with bourbon taste notes.
3. Denver Bacon Company Bacon
I am a devoted Benton’s bacon fan. Smokey and rich, the Tennessee-based bacon pimped with conviction by Momofuku’s David Chang is a staple of many of our homemade dishes. But Benton’s is not an everyday bacon. Chef Justin Brunson‘s new line of bacon, Denver Bacon Company on the other hand, is. Produced locally in Colorado, dry-cured, and peachwood smoked, this bacon is made of thick slices of pork, delicately sweetened with maple sugar. The balance of salt, smoke, and faint trace of sugar is impressive.
4. Pear Eau de Vie from Peak Spirits
The Peak Spirits Pear Eau de Vie is a colorless and clear brandy created by fermenting and double distilling Green Bartlett pears organically grown by Ela Family Farms. With a bright yet discreet flavor, this particular spirit may be one of the world’s best secrets. One taste and forever loyalty emerges. Peak Spirits also makes the charming and delicate Cap Rock gin, perfect on its own or in classic and modern cocktails. These two spirits and more are produced on an entirely bio-dynamic farm in Hotchkiss, Colorado.
5. Coconut Macarons from Spuntino
There is no secret that pastry chef Yasmin Lozada-Hissom creates incredible flavors and textures in the desserts she crafts at Spuntino, the neighborhood restaurant that she co-owns with her husband, chef and writer John Broening. Lozada-Hissom’s hot chocolate made a splash in Denver but her coconut macarons, a perfected combination of sweet coconut flavor with a crisp exterior and a soft and chewy texture are equally attractive. About ten of them come in a pretty blue box and retail for $14.75- available at Spuntino.
6. Niwot Honey
Raw local honey that is the closest thing to natural candy as it gets. It is thick enough to have to dig into the jar with a spoon and tasty enough not to want to stop digging. The supply is small and the local grocery store in Niwot, the place that stocks the bee-goodness, will only sell one large jar per person. Let’s just say it is worth multiple visits.
7. Cabra Blanca Cheese from Avalanche Creamery
Crafted in Basalt, Colorado, with milk from goats that get to graze on the creamery’s farm in Paonia, Cabra Blanca is an aged semi soft goat cheese, delicate and palatable even for cheese-beginners with slight citrus notes. You can find it at Cured in Boulder and in the cheese section of many Whole Foods markets.
8. Crooked Stave Beer
Even the sour-est of sourpusses will smile drinking this beer. Chad Yakobson, former head brewer at Odell, started Crooked Stave, an artisan brewery in Denver to create progressive beers - barrel-aged sours and American wild ales. The brews reflect Yakobson’s personal approach to brewing: a combination of science and art. A good gateway to Crooked Stave is the Saison. For the more adventurous, go with the Sentience.
9. Tru Pickles
Several Colorado artisans make great pickles but Tru Pickles stand out for both simplicity and taste. These classic pickles are created with the owner’s grandmother’s European recipe without preservatives. An old-school trick- a grape leaf- is at the bottom of every Tru jar to keep the pickles fresh and crisp. Each jar is hand packed with pickles and balanced spices like pepper, garlic and dill. My favorite is still the original. Unexpected retail outlet: Ace Hardware- over 1,000 Ace Hardwares nationwide are selling the pickles.
10. Serendipity Caramels
When researching to find Denver’s best caramels for a 5280 article I wrote in the Food Lover’s Guide September issue, I ran across Serendipity Caramels and never looked back. These treats are crafted with organic cream, butter, vanilla, brown sugar and locally-sourced agave nectar, a more flavorful and less-controversial substitute for corn syrup. Fleur de sel is added to one of the varieties to really put the flavor combinations over the top. Find Serendipity Caramels at In Season Local Market in Denver or at The Cupboard in Fort Collins.
Disclosure: Boxcar, Crooked Stave, and Peak Spirits are associated with The Source, a project that my husband is developing in Denver’s River North neighborhood. In a chicken and egg like debate, if loving these products and respecting what these producers are creating was the chicken, well then the chicken was certainly first.