I don’t know about you, but I prefer not to be reminded of the lack of shopping days until Christmas. Normally I’m a “plan ahead and get it done early” kind of holiday shopper, but it can feel like even though Thanksgiving has just passed, I didn’t start early enough. I’ve been paying the price of long lines, frazzled sales people, and a generally elevated level of stress. Funny how a holiday season that should be all about joy and fun can cause so much frustration.
In case you’re also struggling with what to get a friend or loved one (or maybe what to put on your own list) I figured I’d share a few gift ideas I love. And since it is Fromage Friday, I figured what better gift giving guide to share than ideas for the cheese lover.
Cheese of the Month Club
What better place to start than with the gift of cheese itself. As with just about everything these days there is of course an “of the month club” for cheese. They’re a great gift idea for cheese lovers who like the idea of trying something new and being surprised by what arrives every month. So how do you choose a good one? I’m a fan of clubs associated with reputable cheese shops and restaurants, such as Murray’s cheese of the month and pair of the month clubs. You can also find clubs from Cowgirl Creamery, Artisanal, and Marion Street Market here in Chicago and Formaggio Kitchen, my favorite cheese shop back in Boston. Options abound, but for me it’s just about picking one through a retailer or producer whose quality you trust. Clubs average about $55/month plus shipping so they are not inexpensive, but do often give the recipient access to rare cheeses and sometimes come with fromager’s notes and pairing suggestions. While not a true cheese club, for vegans there is even an Artisan Tree Nut Cheese sampler available from Dr. Cow for gifting. I had the chance to sample them last year courtesy of the company. For my personal taste, they were too far off from animal-milk based cheeses in texture and taste (with the exception of the cream cheese, which I wrote about here), but vastly better than a lot of the vegan cheeses I’ve tried, which tend to more closely replicate processed American Cheese. However I admit I am decidedly NOT vegan and eat regular cheese quite frequently so it’s definitely possible that my standards are unreasonably high. The cheeses have received rave reviews from some vegan bloggers (see reviews here, here and here) so they may still be worth considering.
While I enjoy buying tangible gifts, I’ve also become partial toward giving my friends and loved ones ‘experiences.’ They’re generally unexpected and often the memories they create outweigh those offered by any physical present. One fun option is a farm tour. The premise is generally that your tour guide (usually with a food/culinary background) takes you to visit individual cheese producers, often with samples and demonstrations. It’s a fun way to get a peek behind the curtain and see what artisan cheesemaking is really like. I am personally most familiar with Vermont Farm Tours, but check around to see if something similar exists in your area.
Like the idea of giving someone an experience, but not smitten with the idea of a farm tour? Giving your recipient the opportunity to take a cheese-related class is another great gift idea. Classes range from cheesemaking workshops, to pairing/tasting classes (I recently joined fellow Chicago bloggers for one through I Wish), to intensive bootcamps. Best of all, classes abound in most areas so it should be fairly easy to find one near you. Classes are often offered by cheese shops, upscale grocers, restaurants, cooking schools, cookware shops, as well as through community education programs. I found that googling ‘cheese class’ plus my city brought up a lot of options and hopefully will for you as well. And if you’re on a budget, they sometimes show up on deal sites like Groupon and Living Social so it’s worth keeping your eye out.
Have a DIY-minded, fromage-loving foodie on your list? Nothing could be more fun than a cheese making kit. For a beginner, something like a 30-Minute Mozzarella and Ricotta Kit is perfect – easily doable in an afternoon and not tricky at all. But there are also kits available to make everything from Brie and Camembert to Feta and Chevre for more advanced cheesemakers. Kits are most available on the internet (like this one on Etsy), but I’ve also found them in home brewing stores as well.
Another fun (and useful) product I’m obsessed with these days is a cheese journal. It’s a fun gift that is also inexpensive – typically between $4 – $12. Essentially. the concept is similar to a wine journal in that you use it to keep track of cheeses you’ve tasted (and hopefully loved) and keep basic information (i.e. milk type, region, etc.) and tasting notes all in one place. Some journals even have a place to affix the cheese label which in addition to being informative, can make for a fun keepsake. I personally use one from Murray’s that I bought when vacationing in New York a few years ago, but there are many available like this one and this one. Most of them capture the same type of information, though the organization might be different (The 33 Cheeses version, for example, is a little bit more visual featuring a texture meter and a flavor wheel.) The key is to get one small enough (most are pocket-sized) that the recipient will actually take it with them and use it regularly, because the best notebook is one you actually take with you.
Cheese Tools & Serving Pieces
Cheese tools and serving pieces are perfect for the cheese lover who likes to entertain and share with friends. I’m a big fan of cheese trays since they look attractive and can also be used to serve other appetizers and desserts. And these state-shaped cheeseboards by AHeirloom on Etsy? I’m pretty smitten. I’m thinking pairing one of these cutting boards with a selection of cheese, condiments (and maybe even wine) from the same state would make for a clever and unique gift. However, I also think this cheese dome is a lot of fun (and wouldn’t mind if it showed up under the tree for me) and get a lot of use out of my cheese knives that I received from my sister a few years ago.
Cheese Books and Magazines
Got a cheese lover who also is also a book worm? Lucky for you there are a lot of great titles to choose from. Even though it is a magazine and not a book, I’m in love with Culture Magazine, which I wrote about when it came out way back in 2009. It’s packed full of recipes, interviews, and reviews of the latest cheeses. I’ve also read and personally enjoyed Cheesemonger and The Cheese Chronicles, and regularly reference The Cheese Primer when I have a question about cheese. And for someone who likes to cook with cheese, The Cheese Lover’s Cookbook and Guide is full of amazing recipes like Endive Canoes Stuffed with Blue Cheese, Baked Goat Cheese Salad, and Rack of Lamb with Goat Cheese Crust.
Are there other cheese-related items worth thinking about? I’m always a sucker for anything that involves cheese and would welcome your suggestions.