Traditional recipes

Artisanal Treats for Food Lovers

Artisanal Treats for Food Lovers


If you've got serious food lovers on your gift list this year, look no further. These unique, small-batch treats are sure to delight.

To Foodies, With Love

We have been eating our way through the nation's top artisanal offerings since we began our Taste Test Awards in 2010. What's coming out of small kitchens these days is spectacular. From carefully spiced but pungent kimchi to mind-blowing small-batch hot fudge sauce, these award-winning items have the character to please your food-obsessed family and friends.

Support these artisans. Most items can be ordered online (though local laws may mean liquor must be sourced through distributors in some states). Shipping can be expensive, so we favored products that offer a unique experience and make worthy gifts. We did not focus on low-fat foods: When the quality is this high, you can enjoy a little less and truly savor every bite or sip.

The Elegant Farmer Apple Pie Baked in a Paper Bag

It may sound odd—a pastry baked in a paper bag?—but the presentation turns out to be charming. As for what lies within: an insanely good crust—crisp almost to the point of crunchy, and buttery-rich, with a lovely sugar-crust coating—and a filling of fat, juicy, perfectly tender apple slices bathed in warm (and not-too-strong) spices. A bite with both crust and fruit is pure perfection, bringing crisp and creamy together. ($40/elegantfarmer.com)

Coop's MicroCreamery Hand Made Hot Fudge

This super-rich, throat-catching chocolate sauce is indulgent, thick, and luscious. With a straightforward ingredient list (sugar, fresh cream, salted butter, pure chocolate, natural cocoa powder, and molasses), it tastes just like what you hope for in a hot fudge and has that sneak-just-a-spoonful-every-night quality about it. ($10/10.6 ounces, coopsmicrocreamery.com)

Yvan Valentin Dark Chocolate Truffles

The thin, crisp chocolate shell gives way to supremely chocolaty and creamy ganache, while the freeform shape suggests more handcrafted, less machine-manipulated beauty. Each truffle equals two bites of heaven. Yvan Valentin has made incredible pastries for big Hollywood celebrities of old, but he just started shipping them after decades of strictly local/wholesale orders. ($24/0.5 pound, www.yvanvalentinchocolate.com)

Feve Curve Praline Bars

Three wave-shaped milk chocolate bars have just a sliver of French wafer for crispiness and are filled with handmade nut butters in three flavors: hazelnut, peanut butter, and (our favorite) corn nut—the latter of which is so unique, so fun, and so surprising, it's ingenious instead of a stunt. Feve is feel-good chocolate by design: Five percent of profits support a microlending program for small-scale cacao farmers. ($14/3 bars, fevechocolates.com)

Grey Ghost Bakery Molasses Spice Cookies

The essence of holiday flavors in a perfectly chewy cookie with a straight-out-of-the-oven texture. Crystallized ginger and sugar crystals provide excellent crunch, and the spices serve to enhance the molasses, not overwhelm or unpleasantly perfume. Delightfully passes for homemade, which is especially impressive considering this is a beautifully packaged cookie. ($9/dozen, greyghostbakery.com)

Dogfish Head Sixty-One Beer

Delaware's Dogfish Head is one of the leading craft breweries in the country, known for making what beer geeks affectionately term "extreme beers." Their latest, released this spring, takes their much-loved 60-minute IPA (so named because the beer is "continuously hopped" for an hour) and adds wine must from syrah grapes, which gives the otherwise fragrant beer a reddish tint, a fruitlike flavor dose, and a nice, bright bitterness. That, plus the lovely plummy color, makes this a more ladylike IPA. ($9/4 12-ounce bottles, dogfish.com)

Columbus Brewing Co. IPA

Bright, crisp, and well balanced with a delightfully (but not too aggressively) hoppy note that doesn't overpower its smooth finish. Good for the beginner hops enthusiast, with a hint of lemon and grapefruit that makes it super-refreshing. ($9/6 12-ounce bottles, columbusbrewing.com)

Richland Rum

This aged rum has taken the Southern spirits market by surprise: Owner Erik Vonk has been working for years on a recipe he keeps secret, distilling rum in copper pots and aging it until maturity. Vonk even grows some of the sugarcane used to make the rum. Beautiful for sipping or mixing in cocktails, it possesses sweet notes of butterscotch and caramel, while roasty, toasty vanilla rounds out the finish with an elusive floral, almost vegetal quality. ($50/750 milliliters, richlandrum.com)

Re:Find Botanical Brandy (Gin-Style)

Central California winemaker Alex Villicana has found a creative use for the grape juice left over from the winemaking process: Distill it into a gin-like "botanical brandy." Unlike grappa, Re:Find's brandy is made from raw grape juice (grappa is distilled from grape seeds, pulp, and skins after wine fermentation). This is more of a cocktail "gin" that's perfect on its own over ice with a simple orange slice to garnish. ($38/750 milliliters, refinddistillery.com)

Jack Rudy Small Batch Grenadine

Demand for artisan spirits has taken off with the cocktail movement, but it's taken a while for mixers to catch up. This pomegranate grenadine was released earlier this year but has been in the works for years by South Carolina--based Jack Rudy. The end result is tangy and fragrant, with a touch of sweetness from cane sugar and orange-flower water. The restraint on sugar content makes historical cocktails more closely resemble their original recipes—before the introduction of corn-syrupy industrial grenadine. If your Shirley Temple needs an edge, just give her a shot of this craft syrup. ($32/2 (17-ounce) bottles, jackrudycocktailco.com)

Volpi Prosciutto

Unlike industrially processed American prosciuttos that taste mostly of nitrates and salt, Volpi's hand-cured heritage pork prosciutto is powerfully savory with a nice hit of porcine depth. It's salt-rubbed by hand and air-dried for more than six months to ensure even curing and a velvety, voluptuous texture—at a phenomenally good price. ($5.29/3 ounces, volpifoods.com)

Murray's Cavemaster Reserve Fromage à Trois

Old Chatham Sheepherding Co. in upstate New York produces a creamy sheep's-milk cheese, Kinderhook Creek, then sends it to Murray's in Manhattan where it's used to create two new flavored cheeses: The Hudson Flower is covered with herbs tasty enough to convert sworn rind-haters, and the C-Local is washed in beer from Brooklyn Brewery and aged for an earthy funkiness. ($46/3 (6-ounce) wheels, murrayscheese.com)

Smoking Goose Smoked Lamb Bacon

Grass-fed lamb bellies are smoked over apple wood to yield this unusual take on bacon from young Indianapolis butcher Chris Eley. This is a lamb lover's idea of heaven for breakfast. It's equal parts sweet, sugary, salty, and gamey, with a buttery texture that dissolves on the tongue. ($16/pound, smokinggoose.com)

Zingerman's Detroit Street Brick

This lovely cheese offers a pronounced goatiness, sans an overly barnyard-bound twang. Delicious, crunchy nuggets of peppercorn provide a bright pop of pungent flavor that's tempered by the dense but creamy cheese. ($17/0.5 pound, zingermans.com)

Cranberry & Coconutty Peanut Buttery by Yum Butter

Wonderfully sweet, with delicious coconut shreds and bits of jamlike organic Wisconsin cranberries to linger over as you chew, this peanut butter basically does double duty as peanut butter and jelly. Plus, following a one-for-one model, the company donates a jar of peanut butter to a child in need for every jar you purchase. ($8/1 pound, yumbutter.com)

Quince & Apple Figs & Black Tea Preserves

Uniquely interesting with magnificent chunks of fresh fig and back notes of slow-brewed black tea. Just a touch of sugar and lemon juice provides balance and the right amount of sweetness, keeping its applications versatile. Serve it over vanilla gelato or with a grilled pork chop. ($8.50/6 ounces, quinceandapple.com)

Gregory Benjamin Preserves

It all began with jammaker Gregory Benjamin's spiced peach preserves but has since expanded to 12 more flavors, including our favorites: strawberry-rhubarb pie, lemon-blueberry, and apricot (pictured). All are nicely tart, bright, and juicy, with concentrated fruit-forward flavor, buttery undertones, and a pleasant chew. ($12/16 ounces, gregorybenjaminsbest.com)

We Olive Green Olive and Lemon Mustard

A fresher take on typical grain mustard, this spread is brightened up with lemon notes and briny olive pieces, which add textural interest. Would enhance—but not overpower—anything from a simple turkey sandwich to a perfectly roasted pork tenderloin. ($6.50/8 ounces, shopweolive.com)

Alaska Pure Wild Blueberry Flake Salt

It's hard to know which is more divine: this salt's texture or its vivid hue. The gorgeous, fat flakes are delicate on the palate, shattering beautifully with the faintest pressure. Its nice, clean salt flavor has just a hint of fruity acidity (don't be turned off by the "blueberry" in the name). Equally striking sprinkled on scallops, dusted on a cookie, or clinging to the rim of a margarita glass. ($12/4 ounces, shop.alaskapureseasalt.com)

Lillie's Q Carolina Barbecue Sauce

Charlie McKenna, the Chicago chef behind Lillie's Q restaurant, has competed on the barbecue circuit and now bottles his sauces. We loved the Carolina variety. It's the perfect mix of powerful smokiness, pepper-filled heat, and subtle sweetness. And its not-too-thick, not-too-gloppy texture has enough body to hold up to the flavor combo. ($8/16 ounces, lilliesq.com)

Sunny Bang Private Label Probiotic Hot Sauce

Sea salt from Maine, vinegar from upstate New York, and peppers from Pennsylvania Dutch country are all that go into this lovely, vibrantly hued hot sauce from Brooklyn. (The "probiotic" in the name refers to the lactic fermentation that the peppers undergo, which lends an almost effervescent quality and helps cut the heat.) Has nice bitter chile notes balanced with tang and heat, with delicious chewy dried chile particles. ($13/8 ounces, sunnybangprivatelabel.com)

Jacobsen Salt Co. Flake Finishing Sea Salt

This extraordinarily clean-tasting salt, which leading Pacific Northwest chefs use to enhance their dishes' local flavors, was the first commercially available, hand-harvested salt from the Oregon coast. Great crisp (not crunchy) texture without minerality or a chemical aftertaste; instead, it reads as fresh, clear saltwater that dissolves on the tongue. ($13/4 ounces, jacobsensalt.com)

Santa Barbara Pistachio Company Onion-Garlic Pistachios

Grown organically in the hills of Santa Barbara, these nuts are superfresh and crunchy with a pleasantly aggressive flavor. Great for snacking, they're like the best, grown-up version of sour cream and onion potato chips (with the added bonus of a nutrient-rich pistachio base). ($8/12 ounces, santabarbarapistachios.com)

Doux South Pickles Mean Green Tomatoes

The pickling trend takes on big, big flavor in a juicy, sweet-spicy pickled green tomato. Mustard seed and turmeric seem kicked up here, so these have an almost Indian essence. Unique, fun, delicious—and quite spicy—these would make an excellent addition to a Southern veggie plate. ($40/4 16-ounce jars, etsy.com/shop/douxsouth)

Sinto Gourmet Spicy Radish Kimchi

Nothing wakes up a boring burger or hot dog like kimchi, but many varieties are overfermented and overseasoned. But Hyunjoo Albrecht's artisan spicy radish is bright and tangy without being scorchingly hot, salty, or pucker-inducing, with the satisfying crunchiness of the freshest pickles. ($10/16 ounces, sintogourmet.com)

Blackberry Farm Griddle Cake Mix

Not only are these pancakes filled with whole grains (cornmeal, oat, buckwheat, and brown rice flours) but they're also gluten-free—especially surprising once you taste their fluffy, light texture. Their good, salty flavor works in both sweet and savory applications, alongside grilled pork and greens or sprinkled with blueberries. ($14/16 ounces, blackberryfarm.com)


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