By Lori Fredrich Senior Writer & Dining Editor Published Dec 08, 2011 at 9:02 AM

Is there anything more frustrating than waiting until the very last minute to buy gifts for that one seriously-difficult-to-buy-for person? That food-loving friend who seems to have everything? The gourmand whose cupboard contains foods that the average person doesn't even know how to pronounce?

Usually, it means that you end up in a long line at a big box store, with your tired irritable kids in tow, trying to decide between "neutral" but boring gifts, like coffee mugs and pairs of slippers.

But, this year, it will be different.

Why? Well, because I've pulled together a collection of 10 clever gifts for that food lover on your list, all of which are locally made, handcrafted, unique and affordable.

Best of all, each one is just as unique as the person for whom you're buying it.

1. For that socially minded foodie, why not give the gift of a beautiful handmade pottery bowl along with the brand new Milwaukee Empty Bowls cookbook ($25)? This book contains 66 delicious soup recipes from area chefs, stories from volunteers, information about grant recipients, musings from groups that gather to make bowls and a large collection of full-color photos. Best of all, proceeds go to feed the hungry in Milwaukee. A cookbook release party will be held at the Roman Coin, 1004 E. Brady St., Thursday, Dec. 8 from 5 to 9 p.m. Donor restaurants will provide soup samples and the cookbook will be available for a donation of $20 or more. Handcrafted bowls from the fall Empty Bowls Milwaukee event will also be available. Cookbooks are also available for $25 online.

2. Treat that hard-to-buy-for friend to the freshest of gourmet oils and vinegars from Oro di Oliva (locations in Wauwatosa and Whitefish Bay). Opt for the pairing sampler, which includes Basil Olive Oil / 18-Year Balsamic; Whole Fruit Lemon Olive Oil / Pomegranate Balsamic and Coratina Extra Virgin Olive Oil / Cinnamon Pear Balsamic ($35 per box). Or taste your way around the store, sampling more adventurous combinations like Blood Orange Olive Oil with Chocolate Balsamic. Want to really impress? Treat your favorite gourmet to a bottle of deliciously earthy black or white truffle oil.

3. The chocolate lover on your list will delight in the Indulgence Chocolate Lover's Gift Set ($55), which contains a box of 12 truffles (Signature Collectionor Chocolatier's Selection), a flight of three fine chocolate bars, gourmet toffee and a chocolate knife, designed to slice through chocolate bars with one easy motion.

4. Impress the literary foodie with a bottle of legendary Amerique 1912 Absinthe from Great Lakes Distillery ($32). Pair with a box of matches, a few gourmet sugar cubes and an absinthe spoon ($9) for the perfect (and unique) gift. Absinthe is available at numerous retailers in the Milwaukee area or online at Binny's Beverage Depot. Absinthe glasses ($9-14) and accessories, including absinthe lip balm ($1.95), are available in the distillery tasting room.

5. A wine and cheese basket is always classy. For something different, head over to Wisconsin Cheese Mart (215 W. Highland Ave.) and select Five-Year Aged Cheddar and Cheshire cheese for the perfect pairing with strong reds. Or grab some Bellavitano Raspberry, a block of Pastures and Carr Valley Benedictine – all of which pair well with any gallant white.

6. Cooking friends will appreciate any one of the gift sets from The Spice House (locations on Old World 3rd Street or in the Milwaukee Public Market). But why not surprise that finicky gourmand with a hand-picked collection of rarities like rich, sweet fermented black garlic, hand-collected fennel pollen, matcha green tea powder, Jolokia "ghost" peppers and lavender vanilla sugar?

7. These days it's not enough to know how to cook a fabulous dinner. One has to know how to craft a delicious cocktail to go along with it! Locally made Bittercube Bitters will turn your friends into mixologists in no time flat (variety pack for $48).

8. The new Bolzano SalamME four pack makes a perfect gift for anyone who loves to entertain ($52). Choose from peppery small-batch Old School Salami, paprika-infused Pamplona Runner Spanish Style Chorizo, sweet and mild Fin Oh Kee Oh Na Fennel Seed Salami and FiggyPuddin' Salami with dried figs and Indulgence cocoa.

9. Rather than buying a gift card to just one place in town, why not give the gift of an entire season of dining? The City Tins Restaurant Edition Tin ($25) contains 20 coaster gift cards worth $10 each. Redeem each coaster at the independent locally owned restaurant featured, and receive $10 off your tab of $25 or more.

10. For the budding brewer, travel no further than Northern Brewer on South 108th Street, where you can pick up the Basic Beer (from $79.99) or Deluxe Beer Starter Kit (from $159.99), both of which contain all the specialized equipment needed to brew beer at home, plus the comprehensive Northern Brewer how-to DVD, "Homebrewing 101: Getting Started."

Lori Fredrich Senior Writer & Dining Editor

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.