12 must-haves for the festive larder
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
1 Willie’s Cacao Cognac and chocolate hamper
Master chocolatier Willie Harcourt-Cooze is offering a number of hampers for chocoholics this festive season, including one that contains five 50g bars of his single-estate dark chocolate from around the world, paired with a 70cl bottle of Réserve des Ancêtres, a sublime 30-year-old Grande Champagne cognac from Dudognon. Just add a leather armchair and a roaring fire.
2 Sal De Riso Oro Puro panettone
Salvatore (“Sal”) De Riso is Italy’s most famous pastry chef, a familiar face on TV and the owner of Pasticceria Sal De Riso, in Minori, on the Amalfi Coast, the village where his parents used to make and sell lemon granita from their bar/tobacconist shop. His latest creation is pure edible bling: panettone made with top-grade Venezuelan chocolate, acacia honey and candied orange and pear, then coated in gold leaf. It comes on its own plate in a golden gift box.
3 Caspian Monarque Privé Beluga caviar
Beluga caviar has always been synonymous with über-luxe dining, but –because wild stocks are off limits and farmed fish take a decade or longer to mature – it has been in short supply. Now, however, top-quality Iranian farmed beluga is becoming widely available, and Monarque’s Privé is one of the very best: big eggs, a faint flavour of walnuts, distinctively creamy and gloriously decadent.
€84.50 for 15g, caspianmonarque.com
4 Giuseppe Giusti Aceto Balsamico 12-Year-Old No 3
Proper balsamic vinegar is a revelation: long maturation in ancient barrels gives it a viscosity and concentration that renders it almost reluctant to leave the bottle. Giusti has been making vinegars in Modena since 1605, and its 12-year-old vinegar has a rich, fruity intensity and astonishing length on the palate. Try it with chunks of Parmigiano Reggiano, or – more daringly – with good quality vanilla ice cream.
£27.95 for 250ml, finefoodspecialist.co.uk
5 Blenheim Forge Santoku knife
Most cook’s knives are either stainless steel and difficult to get razor‑sharp, or carbon steel and liable to rust: this one neatly solves the dilemma by sandwiching the two steels together, leaving only an edge of carbon steel exposed. It also – with its rustically finished blade, solid copper ferrule and walnut handle – looks rather beautiful. And it’s made under a railway arch in Peckham, the steel workshop of Blenheim Forge. For the super-keen cook, knife‑sharpening classes are also available.
From £255, blenheimforge.com
6 Bettys Yorkshire fruit cake
Everyone loves cake, but not everyone is so fond of marzipan and icing, so perhaps a simple fruit cake is what the well-dressed festive sideboard should be wearing. Bettys, the famous old Yorkshire business that opened its first tea rooms in Harrogate exactly a century ago, makes a fine version, stuffed with sherry-soaked vine fruits, studded with glacé cherries, almonds and walnuts and packed in a smart octagonal tin.
7 Fontodi Extra virgin olive oil
Some of the finest Tuscan winemakers also produce fabulous olive oils, as patrons of the River Cafe will know. One of chef/proprietor Ruth Rogers’ favourites is Fontodi. The 2018 oil has a rich, herbaceous pepperiness and is perfect to drizzle over hearty bean soups and casseroles, or just to mop up with a slice of good sourdough.
£28 for 50cl, valvonacrolla.co.uk
8 Sally Barnes Wild Atlantic smoked salmon
2019 marks 40 years since Sally Barnes started smoking wild Atlantic salmon at her Woodcock Smokery in West Cork. One of the great pioneers of Irish gastronomy, she works only with wild fish, and her salmon, cold-smoked over beech wood, has won a host of awards. Forget the lemon wedges that mask the oiliness of farmed fish: serve it instead with thickly buttered soda bread and a glass of champagne.
From €45 for 250g, woodcocksmokery.com
9 Wensleydale Creamery Yorkshire Wensleydale
The perfect companion for a Bettys fruit cake is a wedge of Wensleydale cheese, and there is none finer than the firm, buttery, old-style Wensleydale made by the Wensleydale Creamery in the small market town of Hawes, deep in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. A quarter of the cheese, kept somewhere cool (but away from the fridge), should satisfy most needs, but the splendid Neal’s Yard Dairy offers halves and whole cheeses too.
£23.40 for a quarter cheese (about 1.2kg), nealsyarddairy.co.uk
10 Mr Todiwala’s Spice Box Set
Café Spice Namasté, Cyrus Todiwala’s terrific restaurant that has been feeding and watering the City’s curry lovers for nearly 25 years, has an online shop – Mr Todiwala’s – stocked with perfect stocking fillers for spice fiends. Perhaps a jar of Goan wild-boar pickle (£6), or Parsee Wedding Pickle (£4), a spicy mix of shredded carrot, figs, dates and sultanas: both wonderful with papadums. Or, for the DIY gourmet in your life, a smartly rustic wooden spice box, paired with a copy (personally dedicated, if you wish) of Mr Todiwala’s Simple Spice.
11 Brindisa Classic Paella Kit
Brindisa, the pioneering London-based Spanish food importer whose empire includes five restaurants, also has a great online store. Its bestselling paella kit comprises the pan itself, big enough for four, a bag of Calasparra rice, saffron, sofrito, olive oil, pimentón and piquillo peppers. Those of a dramatic disposition might add a few sachets of cuttlefish ink (£1.50 for 6g x 4g) to make a jet-black arroz negro.
12 Fortnum & Mason Marrons glacés
Chestnuts are indispensable at this time of year: roasted over an open fire, chopped up for stuffing or – in their most luxurious incarnation – picked, dried in a cellar for three weeks, then painstakingly candied in sugar syrup for a week or two, by which time they are fully fledged marrons glacés. Fortnum & Mason’s version benefits from real Madagascan vanilla in the syrup.
£27.95 for 160g, fortnumandmason.com