A gourmet's tour of Italy
with Chef Loretta Paganini
$2,400 to $3,450 (airfare not included)
Has your little sugarplum been very, very good? Then reward her or him with a bon vivant's dream trip to Italy, hosted by chef, educator, and connoisseur Loretta Paganini. The Italian native and director of the eponymous Chesterland cooking school takes travelers on culinary tours of her homeland three times every year (spring, summer, and fall), opening doors onto a world of authentic, unspoiled Italian cuisine. Visitors can stalk the elusive truffle, shop at unique village marketplaces, buy fresh fish right off the boat on the Italian Riviera, or roam through the vineyards of Tuscany, Liguria, and Piedmont. Surely your sweetie deserves no less. For more information on upcoming tours, polish up the platinum and contact the Loretta Paganini School of Cooking at 888-346-COOK.
An eight-course banquet,
prepared in your home by Chef Michael Symon
$300 per guest,
4 to 16 guests required
Johnny Depp will never drop by and give you a foot massage; Justin Timberlake is not going to sing you to sleep. But if being privately pampered by a celebrity is your idea of bliss, we've got a killer gift idea. For a mere $300 per person (four-person minimum), Cleveland's own celebrity chef, Michael Symon -- chef-owner of Lola Bistro, one of Food & Wine magazine's "Ten Best Chefs in America," and host of the Food Network's Melting Pot -- will journey to your humble abode with pots, pans, dishes, linens, and servers in tow. He will prepare a ravishing eight-course, custom-designed feast, with matching wines; handle all the nasty cleanup chores; and possibly even sign an autograph or two. (Foot-rubs and singing definitely not included.) To sign up, call Lola at 216-771-5652.
A sustainable feast,
prepared by Chef Steve Parris
Approximately $250 per guest,
4 to 10 guests required
Sure, environmentalists can be gourmets, too. So if your earthy Christmas angel has a hankering for healthful, homegrown foods, give a call to Cleveland's greenest chef (and former triathlete), Steve Parris. As Mother Nature requires, Parris's sassy six-course menu, full of such dishes as sweet, curried, roasted tomato-leek soup, or cinnamon-and-sake-braised short ribs with an ancho-molasses glaze, will vary with the seasons. But with the region's small, family-owned farms at his disposal and ingredients such as free-range chicken, handcrafted goat cheese, and organically grown baby greens at his command, your meal is sure to rock any time of year. Call Marigold Catering, 216-566-5400, for more information.
A private sampling event
at 806 Wine and Martini Bar
Approximately $55 to $70 per person
There are few rooms in town as opulent, intimate, and downright sexy as this little jewel box of a wine bar in Tremont (806 Literary Road). And while the place is open to hoi polloi on Tuesday through Saturday evenings, Monday nights are set aside for small, private tastings and seminars. For example, upcoming affairs include a small-batch bourbon-tasting on December 8, complete with samples of five handcrafted bourbons, specially created appetizers, cigars, and surprise gifts; a December 15 seminar will focus on highly acclaimed, limited-production, owner-grown champagnes, accompanied by apps from next-door's Theory. While these exclusive events may be coming up too soon for holiday giving, other, equally upscale affairs will be scheduled in the coming months. To find out more about them and to purchase gift certificates, contact Mr. Jody Manning at 216-696-4806.
A trip to tea nirvana with Becky Corbett
$75 and up; maximum group size, 15
You say your favorite gourmet becomes something of a basket case during the holiday crunch? How better to sooth his or her nerves than with a sensuous guided tour through the wonderful world of exotic teas? Let tea expert Becky Corbett lead the expedition, right in the gift recipient's home, complete with an enlightening presentation on tea lore as well as tastings of various infusions, tisanes, and herbal blends. (If you ask, she might even wear her kimono -- or that fetching "Carmen Miranda" headdress.) Call 216-251-4567 or e-mail [email protected].
Aged, artisanal cheeses
from Baricelli Cheese Company
Approximately $25 and up
Yes, you can buy a chunk of cheese at any old grocery store. But we aren't talking Velveeta here. If you want to really impress the refined palates on your gift list, consider a selection of handcrafted cow-, goat-, or sheep's-milk cheeses, culled from the finest small producers of Europe, Quebec, and the U.S., then coaxed along to their peak flavor in the affinage cooler at Baricelli Inn (2203 Cornell Road). Baricelli's chef-owner, Paul Minnillo, is probably the region's leading cheese wiz, and his staff will happily help a shopper sort through the 40 or 50 options -- everything from a classic French L'Edel de Cleron ($9 for 7 ounces) to a Californian Humboldt Fog ($16.95 for 18 ounces) -- that are available at any given time. For details, call the inn at 216-791-6500.
Pure maple syrup from Geauga County
Approximately $37 per gallon
Friends don't let friends use imitation-flavored pancake syrup. So if your favorite gourmet doesn't already have a gallon of pure Ohio maple syrup on the bottom shelf of his or her fridge, this is your chance to score. Personally, we're partial to Geauga County maple syrup; after all, the bulk of the state's annual 100,000-gallon syrup output comes from right here in northeast Ohio. (Ohio, incidentally, is fourth on the list of maple-syrup-producing states, after Vermont, New York, and Maine.) The Burton Chamber of Commerce sells the syrup online, at www.burtonchamberofcommerce.org. Better yet, climb into the sleigh, and head out to the Chamber's old log cabin on Burton's town square, where the syrup is on sale Tuesday through Sunday, 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., through Dec. 23.
The 2002 Vidal Blanc Ice Wine
from Ferrante Winery
Approximately $27 for a 375 ml bottle
The delicate, honeyed flavor of ice wine comes from allowing the grapes to freeze on the vine, a process that concentrates the natural sugars. Because production is both labor-intensive and completely dependent on the weather, this dessert wine is naturally scarce and expensive -- in other words, the perfect gourmet gift! With 20 percent residual sugar, a bouquet of apricots and orange blossoms, and flavors of honey and melon, a bottle of Ferrante's Vidal Blanc Ice Wine is bound to create sweet holiday memories. Order online at www.ferrantewinery.com (for delivery in Ohio only). Or pick up a bottle or two at the winery gift store, at 5585 St. Rt. 307 in Harpersfield Township; call 440-466-8466 for hours. (Many local Heinen's Supermarkets also carry the wine.)
A gift box of Sage's apples
Approximately $21 to $56
The Sage family began growing apples on their Chardon farm almost 90 years ago; today, they produce more than four dozen varieties on 25 acres of land. A trip to their rural market is a soothing change of pace from cruising the mall and can yield all sorts of unusual gift ideas. For the first-class culinarians on your list, though, we recommend the carefully packaged gift boxes, with a colorful assortment of crisp, fresh apples of your choosing -- or, should your imagination fail you, go with the standard mix of Melrose, Holiday, Mutsu, Stayman Winesap, and Red Delicious. The market (11355 Chardon Road) is open from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday. You can order online at www.sagesapples.com.
from Culinaire Pavane
$6.50 to 12.50 each
Then again, perhaps you find fresh apples too practical and healthful to constitute a true gourmet treasure. In that case, consider their lush, beautifully crafted, chocolate-covered cousins from Willoughby's Culinaire Pavane (38342 Western Parkway #7). The festively wrapped ColossApples come in two sizes -- the Original, weighing in at more than two pounds, and the Junior, tipping the scales at about 20 ounces -- and six different flavors, including Classic Pecan, Decadent Chocolate Fudge, and the best-selling Original Toffee Almond -- which is dipped in rum-butter caramel before being drenched in milk chocolate, striped with white and dark chocolate, and finished with crunchy almond toffee. Orders can be placed by phone at 440-942-1180 or in person, although chef-owner Lauren Hartigan recommends phoning ahead to be sure that your favorite variety is on hand.
The annual Christmas Ale
from Great Lakes Brewing Company
Approximately $10 per six-pack
The hops-heads on your list will go gaga over GLBC's much-sought-after Christmas Ale, a seasonal brew that, like the jolly old elf himself, appears only once each year. Available from now until Christmas, the medium-bodied beer is renowned for its spicy flavor (the result of being brewed with cinnamon, ginger, and honey) and makes a fine companion to hearty holiday fare. Pick up a six-pack at GLBC's Ohio City gift store, next door to the pub (2516 Market Avenue; 216-771-4404); hours are usually 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Or snare your share at most Heinen's and Giant Eagle supermarket locations.
Toasted Rosemary Pecans
from Crooked River Herb Farm
$3.95 per four-ounce bag
Llama wrangler, organic farmer, and culinarian Kathleen Varga sells a wide array of herbal food products at her quaint little shop in Peninsula (1663 Main St.; 330-657-2332), but there's nothing else quite as sassy as her Toasted Rosemary Pecans. Zapped with rosemary, cayenne, sugar, kosher salt, and sweet butter -- so they are spicy, sweet, and salty -- these crisp little nibblets can drive taste buds wild. And if you really want to deliver the holiday spirits, try serving them to your secret Santa alongside a big, dry gin martini. Shop hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday.