I might be biased, but when it comes to gift-giving, it's pretty difficult to go wrong with food-related gifts, even for those who don't consider themselves to be gourmands. After all, everyone needs to eat.
Fortunately for all of us, our beautiful state is burgeoning with artisans and craftspeople of all stripes, there are countless options from which to choose. This year, I'm honing in on some of my very favorite Wisconsin-based finds, a good number of which can be found in local shops or easily ordered online. And it's a list that includes both accessories and edibles for even the most persnickety – and difficult to buy for – folks on your list.
For folks who love cheese (aka everyone)
We are so very lucky to live in Wisconsin where great cheese is available at every turn. That’s not so everywhere … and it’s one of the reasons why I’m such a big fan of sending really great artisanal cheese boxes to friends and family who live out of State. And no, I’m not talking about the kitschy mass produced cow-shaped cheeses. I’m talking about amazing delicious cheese from some of the State’s best master cheesemakers.
You definitely have choices when it comes to what cheese to send. But allow me to recommend an assortment or two from Roth Cheese in Monroe, Wisconsin, a company with a long history in both Sweden and Wisconsin (read more here).
The Ultimate Holiday Cheese Gift Package includes seven different Roth Cheeses including signature award-winning favorites like Grand Cru Reserve and Buttermilk Blue along with their new honey chèvre, spicy jalapeno havarti, and favorites like smoked gouda, organic sharp cheddar and Prairie Sunset ($47, plus shipping).
They also have a Cheese Board Gift Package (not pictured) that includes four great holiday selections: Grand Cru Reserve, Buttermilk Blue, jalapeno havarti and smoked gouda for $27, plus shipping.
Either one is guaranteed to make a cheese lover very, very happy.
For cheese lovers who entertain
Speaking of cheese, 2019 has been the year of the cheese board. And anyone who entertains should have at least one. This cheerful 12x10.5-inch Acacia wood version has the added benefit of being holiday cute enough to hang right on the wall when not in use ($34.99). Add a favorite cheese (or two) and some charcuterie to complete the gift. Boards are available online.
For your super busy comfort-food-loving friend
I'm not a huge believer in gift cards, as I think they often take the personal touch away from gift giving. But there are a few cases where I think they're just grand.
If you've got a friend who loves great food but whose life is also super busy (with a new baby, a passion project or maybe just a job they love), the gift of a few hot meals can be the best thing ever.
Numerous companies offer well-made heat-and-eat dinners for busy folks on the go. Among them is Real Good Life, a company that was founded on the notion that life is precious and no one should feel guilty for letting someone else do the cooking every now and again. Meals – which vary from soups, salads and entrees to desserts, breads, snacks and sides – come fully prepared and ready to heat and eat. As an added bonus, a percentage of all sales go to support the work of Hunger Task Force. Purchase printable gift cards (good for their choice of meals) in any amount online.
For the cocktail lover
We all know someone whose drink of choice is a classic gin martini. And if that person also happens to be opinionated on the topic of how that martini is served (as they likely are), I’ve got a book from which they’re likely to glean a whole lot of enjoyment.
"The Martini: A Meditation on the World's Greatest Drink with Recipes" is a book written by James Beard nominated writer Robert Simonson, a native of Wisconsin who currently lives in Brooklyn. His latest work is smart and well researched. It’s entertaining. And it will call into question everything you thought you knew about the staple cocktail. Order online or purchase at Boswell Books, 2559 N. Downer Ave.
If you really want to impress, pair the book with a bottle of good gin and Bittercube Orange Bitters which is a fantastic addition to any martini. You can find both a nice bottle of gin and the bitters at most well-appointed liquor stores or Bittercube Bar & Bazaar, 4828 W. Lisbon Ave.
For your frugal Milwaukee dining buddy (or yourself)
For the first time this year, I took advantage of the Community Gift Pack feature on Small Shops United. It featured about 25 offers for discounts to local restaurants that use the Small Shops loyalty program. What I loved i s that the offers can be redeemed using a simple member card or account phone number, so there were no coupons for me to lose (or accidentally leave at home), and zero waste. It was such a good idea, I stowed it away as an idea to include in my holiday gift guide.
The details: For just $25, you can give any Milwaukee food lover in your life the gift of discounted dining ($10 off $30) at over 20 local restaurants (including trusted standbys like Amilinda, Birch + Butcher, The Original and Transfer Pizza plus new hot spots like Triciclo Peru and Wild Roots). Each packet also includes select offers for discounted tickets to dining-adjacent activities from local theaters, the Symphony and both Admirals’ and Bucks’ games.
Gift packs can be ordered online and applied directly to your small shops account (or as a packet shipped to you for gift giving). Once purchased, the gift pack just needs to be activated with the accompanying activation code.
In my opinion, the best thing about a gift like this is that you're not only treating someone to a series of delicious meals, you’re also investing in local independent restaurants that make our city great. It’s a win-win for everyone.
For the baker
Know someone who spends a lot of time in the kitchen? Bet if given the chance, they’d tell you they can never have enough cotton towels. Plain white towels are awesome and utilitarian; but cotton towels that make you laugh are even better. Take this hand-stamped cotton towel made by Rebecca Gasparich, for instance. It’s perfect for the bad ass baker in your life; you can even pick a stamp color to match their kitchen ($15). Pair it up with a jar or two of herbs (for the bread baker) or baking spices (for a baker who loves sweets) from Penzey's or Spice House. The towel can be ordered online.
For the beer buff
We’ve all got at least one friend whose happy place is bellying up to the bar at their favorite Wisconsin brewery. My guess is they’d be the perfect recipient for Milwaukee Beer Gear’s new Mahogany wood coaster set featuring all four of the foundational ingredients needed for beer: wheat, barley, yeast and hops ($28). Top it off with a large format bottle of seasonal beer from a local brewery. The coasters can be ordered online or found in a variety of local shops including The Waxwing and The Sparrow Collective.
For the curious cook
I’m a big fan of gifting experiences. Whether it’s a memorable dinner at a favorite restaurant, a night at the theater or a day simply spending time together, it’s a gift option that comes with the bonus of creating lifelong memories. For those who love to cook, I highly recommend the gift of a cooking class.
For those who love to create new things in the kitchen, the opportunity to learn a new skill, technique or recipe is often a joy. So a great cooking class gives them something they can both enjoy in the moment and for years to come. I’m a big fan of the experiences offered by Braise Restaurant in Walker’s Point. But you should also check out the classes scheduled for the brand new Troquet, a cooking school and events venue from the owners of Le Reve in Wauwatosa.
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.