The Taster has endeavored to ensure that the items below are ethical, healthy, and delicious. If you know a company that deserves to go on the list, drop us a line here
If you’re looking for organic fruit & veg (and in some cases, more organic items), consider making regular orders from these delivery companies — you may get bonus free copies of The Taster!
This is a genuinely inspired idea from Morse Toad: chocolates that you can send through the post, so there’s no danger of the recipient getting one of those “Sorry we missed you” cards; and you can personalise them. You just provide a message to be rendered in delicious Belgian chocolate, a photo and text for a printed note. Morse Toad then create the box of chocs for your and sends it off. It’s ethical, too; sourcing chocolate from the Cocoa Horizons Foundation which helps support cocoa farmers. From £9.50; last orders for Christmas 20 December. See the website HERE
Organic chestnuts, chocolate quails’ eggs, Fairtrade (Divine) chocolate coins, organic mulling spices are available HERE, along with vegan and free-from items. The Natural Grocery Store provides some of the most sought-after festive foods, including gift food & drink and traditional Organic Meats, Fruits & Vegetables. All their produce comes from local farms where possible, and delivery is free with a minimum order (T&Cs apply). The goods are delivered in temperature-controlled environments for maximum freshness & quality and, unless indicated otherwise, everything is free from artificial preservatives, colours & flavours, with organic options offered wherever possible. There’s also a direct line on 01242 572323 which, the store emphasises, you are more than welcome to ring
A great idea for a Christmas gift for chocoholic and/or wine-loving chums, or (heh heh) to pop under the tree as a gift to yourself. Six delicious bars of chocolate are specially matched to six half-bottles of wine, with the wines and chocolates complementing each other perfectly. The Taster’s wine columnist, Richard J. Smith, particularly liked the Vire Clesse and Rustenburg wines. £79; find the gift box options HERE; there are also Champagne gift boxes (£56) and Fine Wine Dining gifts (£60), or you can build your own gift pack
These vinegars look amazing in their different-shaped bottles and make a great present for home cooks; they can be combined with oils and herbs to make terrific salad dressings, used to deglaze pans for exceptional sauces, and made to add flavour and ‘cut’ fat in risottos and pasta dishes. This selection includes White Banyuls, Banyuls, Normandy cider, Rosé Pineau de Charentes, Thyme Flower and Saffron vinegars, for £75. Click HERE for more options, including speciality vinegar pots and barrels, herb & spice mixes, and several difficult-to-get-hold-of items, like pickled cherries, cubeb pepper, organic basil oil and tagine spices.
Fruit & Herb Vinegars
As above, vinegars (or vinaigres, if we’re being posh!) have a wide range of uses in the kitchen, and the bottles can look extremely pretty as well — definitely pretty enough for a Christmas present, as pictured below:
Fruit and herb vinegars are a quick way to add fresh and floral flavours along with a good hit of acidity to dishes. Think of everything that needs a drop of lemon juice – from pasta sauces to salad dressings, and anything to do with smoked salmon – and experiment with a new vinegar. There’s a great range at womersleyfoods.com including cherry, blackberry, black pepper and lavender, and one based on lemon, basil, bay and juniper
Fabulous Italian nougat, panettone, Prosecco and other Italian treats
A box of three gourmet bars of nougat is a great present . . . or for thrift, you could split them up and wrap them individually . . . we tried these and they are genuinely the best nougat we’ve ever tried. Larger treats include Chocolate Panettone and a Christmas Prosecco. See Vallebona
Click HERE for a look at The Taster’s recommended Christmas Hampers this year; with options including Christmassy Gin & Tonic Hampers, Prosecco & Truffle, and Champagne Hampers, as well as standard Festive Fare hampers
Wild Welsh Scotch
First, try a paradoxical drink – Welsh Scotch! Click on the pic below for organic whisky, Welsh whisky, seaweed gin, fruit gins, apple brandy and more — all organic, all very special, and most come in full-size or stocking-filler size
If you like the idea of ‘natural’ wine (and biodynamic, sulphite-free or low-sulphite, and organic wine), and also of ordering them online, take a look HERE at Good Wines Online. They do claim that their wines will not give you a hangover — well, it has to be worth a try!
Another spirited offering — this one would make a very special Christmas gift for whisky devotees. This autumn (2017), a second batch of the first Cotswolds whisky ever distilled went on sale in Warwickshire. (The 500 bottles of the first batch are now all spoken for — which gives an idea of the ripples this tipple is causing). For more info, click HERE
Honey Wine (Mead) – the ultimate sweetness
For the bee-lover, honey-fan or Medievalist in your life. This mead is steeped in tradition and comes in gift packs and in five delicious flavours: traditional, chocolate, chilli, ginger and caramel. It really does make a romantic gift, too: you can point out that not only diamonds are forever — so far as we know, honey has no use-by date either. See Chalice Mead for more
You can personalise or brand your own bottles of this Cornish Natural Spring Water, which comes from an underground lake where pure moorland rainfall filters naturally through rocks deep within a hillside. Clear, crisp, mineral taste; comes in still or sparkling
Beers of Europe & Beyond!
For beer, take a look at Beers of Europe. They also do spirits and liqueurs, and next-day delivery. There has to be something suitably personal for your beer-lover!
For the spirit-lover in your life. This chic, scalloped bottle of French ginger liqueue (Domaine de Canton) is very impressive in reality (we assume the bottle would be quite small, but it enjoys a full-sized, satisfying wine-bottle volume). Cleverly reminiscent of pieces of raw ginger, the bottle itself is an attractive piece, and the contents festively delicious. A good after-dinner liqueur, it adds a spicy seasonal note to cocktails, chocolate or orange puddings, sushi, pork or Thai food. Order from thewhiskyexchange.com (use the search option to find “Domaine de Canton”) Selling for about £34
These are some of the best olives we’ve found: rich dark kalamata olives, fresh and flavoured green olives, all organic, prepared in interesting marinades. Find them HERE along with a couple of serving ideas: Greek bruschetta and proper Greek salad (as given to us by a proper Athenian)
Add a little edge to your evening with this Ultimate Carolina Reaper (an incendiary variety of chilli) Collection. It includes fiery versions of Bombay mix, pork scratchings, peanuts and chilli chocolates. Find them HERE along with one of the largest selections of chilli powder and pod products in Europe, from the very mild cooking ingredients and sauces to the incendiary Venom Sauce(!)
We’ve tried these sauces, by La Saucy Salsa, and recommend them highly as dips and also as toppings for bruschetta. If you like a creamy dip, just mix them with fromage frais or crème fraîche. They make delicious alternatives to the traditional basil pesto, and we particularly liked the paprika flavour as a dip for crisps or nachos. A gift pack of four (£20) is a decent under-the-tree present; you can of course split them up to make thoughtful stocking fillers. To make an order, ring the lovely Rosie Alvarez on 07876 532245 or email firstname.lastname@example.org; see all details HERE
Top tip: squeeze a bit of fresh lime juice over the coriander salsa. Takes it to another level!
This is a delicious, healthy and sustainable meat. In the Scottish hills, deer roam freely, feeding on heather, wild plants and grass. This makes wild venison a delicious, healthy and sustainable meat source: low in fat and high in iron, protein, omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin B, and 20% of the daily requirement of selenium and zinc.
With no natural predators, the population has to be managed to protect the environment from overgrazing. Great Glen Charcuterie, a family business based in the rugged Highlands of Scotland, uses sustainably sourced local wild venison. Excepting its venison & pork items, all Great Glen products are 100% wild Scottish venison. The salami has won multiple awards, including three Great Taste stars and beating a very good Spanish chorizo and air-dried Iberico Bellota jambon to win the Best Charcuterie category.
Great Glen still has a butcher’s shop in the tiny Highlands village of Roy Bridge but, if you can’t make it there, order from GreatGlenCharcuterie.com
We’ve discovered a lovely new company this year, Herb Fed Poultry, and (as of today, 9 December) they are still providing herb-fed roosters, turkeys and chickens. Find out more HERE
Find recipes and where to source free-range geese, goose fat and a genuine GOLDEN GOOSE HERE
If you’re after a turkey, try HERE
Houghton Hams produce low-salt and nitrite-free products including reduced-salt bacon and ham, gluten-free sausages, and sausages for children which contain added vegetables (so healthy!). Makes a perfect Boxing Day resource — just put it out with pickles and chutneys and let everyone pick at it, as they will. Order from HoughtonHams.co.uk
Raw Fairtrade Chocolate
In their natural state, cacao beans are choc-full of nutrients. These include vitamins, minerals, poly- phenols and friendly bacteria. But did you know conventional chocolate-making involves cooking off most of these health-giving nutrients?
The Raw Chocolate Co says it keeps the goodness in by sun-drying the beans rather than roasting, then grinds them for three times longer than usual to achieve an extra- smooth texture. The bars and snacks contain further superfoods, such as goji berries, ginger, almonds and seeds, in a range of flavours from ginger & lemon to salted vanoffee hazelnut.
This chocolate range ticks pretty much every box: organic, Fairtrade, vegan- friendly, gluten-free, soy-free and, as mentioned, choc-a-block with beneficial vitamins and minerals.’ the spirit-lover in your life. Order from TheRawChocolateCompany.com
Dairy-free and made with just three ingredients: cacao, coconut milk and crystallised coconut nectar. The Taster particularly likes Sweet Revolution as the company uses cacao from small-scale farms, which helps the farmers themselves and helps protect the rainforests they live among. Hot chocolate, and a whole range of ethical chocolate bars. Order from Sweetrevolution
A taste of Scotland: this high-quality salt comes from the mineral-rich waters of Loch Snizort; no chemicals, produced using sun and wind only, distinctive flavour. Get it in now for Burns Night (25 January); or at Christmas, makes a great stocking-filler for home cooks – see here
£2.99 for a generous-sized packet of satisfyingly chunky salt rocks; quote “Taster25” for 25% off and they’re just £2.24. Use to season food and/or add visual interest to your more special culinary presentations. Also, you can get coarse or fine ground salt, and salt cooking slabs (which make very pretty serving platters) See Saltan
Having tried one of Rafi’s Spiceboxes, we can testify to their lusciousness: really nice, authentic food. Usefully, for those who like very little or a whole lot of heat, you decide how much you need (the paprika comes in a separate packet). Serves up to six people (or four, if you have a couple of hungry rugby players at the table). Includes spice mixes, papadoms, nibbles and mango chutney. You just supply the meat/fish/veg; and coconut milk if desired. Rafi has also just published a cookbook – read about it here
Another way to dispose of turkey leftovers! The Anglo Indian Chef provides ‘instant base sauce’ spice mix which helps you make authentic, delicious curries that are additive-free and ready in minutes. You might slip a single pack into someone’s Christmas stocking, or the Chef also provides gift packs
Spice for ginger biscuits
Try this packet of mixed spice by Vandotsch Speculaas; we have a packet and it smells absolutely gorgeous — it’s the sort you make those lovely little ginger biscuits that get put out with posh coffees
Fresh ground Indian spices
We love this idea. Get your spices freshly-ground, in small quantities (so they don’t spend three years drying out in the spice rack) but in a wide variety so you can make different dishes. Comes in a pretty bag make of recycled sari fabric. Stock up at Spice Kitchen; quite a few other items on the website as well including loose tea, cookware, wedding favours & more
We’ve tried these and can’t recommend them more as dips and as pasta sauces; they make delicious alternatives to pesto, and we particularly liked the paprika flavour as a dip for crisps or nachos. A gift pack of four (£20) is a decent under-the-tree present; you can of course split them up to make thoughtful stocking fillers. To make an order, ring the lovely Rosie Alvarez on 07876 532245 or email email@example.com; see all details on LaSaucySalsa
Top tip: squeeze a bit of fresh lime juice over the coriander salsa. Takes it to another level!
South African sauces and marinades by Safari — beware, satisfyingly hot!
No peanuts – but every other type of nut, pounded and crushed into a delicious buttery substance that can be enjoyed on toast or in puddings, possibly even sandwiched between macaroons, or guiltily spooned down whole. Very pure – most of the butters are composed of literally nothing but the nuts themselves. Includes almond butter, hazel, coconut, pecan (deliciously dark and toasty), walnut and more. £10 for a gift set of four, and you can split them up to create four stocking fillers at £2.50 each. Quote “Taster-Nut” to get free p&p off orders over £10, courtesy of The Taster – order from NuturalWorld
Chutney, relish, jam, piccalilli, marmalade!
One of our distribution partners, Hembridge Organics provide a nationwide mail order service to provide organic, award-winning jam, chutney, picalilli, relish, marmalade and honey. All these are made using ‘ugly vegetables,’ reducing waste and giving farmers a fair price for their produce, and everything except the Seville oranges is sourced locally. No chemicals, no animal setting agents — everything is natural, organic and delicious. They do sweet little wood-and-straw gift boxes, too. Order from Hembridge Organics
We’ve tried this, and it’s delicious; with exciting-looking black seeds and chunky bits. Complete list of ingredients is mango, sugar, vinegar, salt, ginger, garlic, spices, lemon zest & pectin; and a Great Taste winner to boot. A bargain at £2.99. Bhaji Man also does curry kits & packs which would make a nice gift for any foodie friend
Seafood-Lovers Hamper (Yorkshire only)
As above, a hamper makes a good joint gift and The Taster is very pleased to see Ramus Seafood Emporium, a really lovely company devoted to sustainable fish, offering such pleasing hampers, containing not only vouchers for delicious seafood but some very nice ceramics and utensils (oyster clamp, crustacean kit, moules pot) as well. Send a themed hamper to oyster (pictured), lobster or mussel lovers. Sadly it’s Click & Collect only but, if you can get to Ilkley or Harrogate, for the right person these are perfect presents.