In the most obvious statement I’m ever most likely to make, here it is, brace yourselves folks; Christmas can be overwhelming. Now that you have had time for that ground-breaking news to settle within you let me continue. I had written quite the diatribe with lovely lyrical anecdotes about how the stresses of the season can overshadow the nature of the celebration, the togetherness, the food and wine, and the season of goodwill. And then I stopped. Why? Because I realise that quite frankly nobody wants to read that and no matter how eloquently I try to put it I won’t be able to capture all the nuanced feelings, emotions and difficulties right now; so here it is. Despite everything I think Christmas can be exceptionally special and even more so this year. I feel that one of the reasons many people get stressed is around the giving of gifts. In a response to the world around us I want to make a particular effort this year to support local and Irish companies. I am doing this by putting together a rolling post of a different Irish product added every week that I have enjoyed this past year and longer. My plan is to buy a number of the same product a week leading up to Christmas and in doing so create a hamper of these products to give. It spreads the cost, you have an end goal and plan and there’s no last minute online rush or otherwise. I will also give tips on sourcing baskets, cellophane wrap and other hampers products to make the process easier for you. I will start with non-perishable products that will keep for some time and others to even make yourself at home. I just hope my family and friends don’t read this because, well, this is your gift. Cue awkward silence in the McBride household at Christmas.
*As always this is not a paid for or sponsored post and all products recommended here express my own opinion*
I feel like I have been living on another planet in that this wondrous condiment of joy has just recently entered my life. Emanating from Heather Flaherty’s Café Builin Blasta in Spiddal Galway, this is a traditional mayonnaise made with rapeseed oil and then spiked with a deep yet delicately flavoured smoked onion. The combination is rich yet subtle and if you can resist just sticking a spoon in, enhance sandwiches, serve with chips or give a new look to your burger. For mayonnaise lovers this will change your life.
Available from stores such as McCambridges, Galway or online with Builin Blasta at www.builinblasta.com RRP €4
2. Richmount Cordial Company Elderflower Cordial
This is a delicious Elderflower cordial, floral and fragrant and reminiscent of the aromas of early summer. Based in Longford Richmount also produce a sparkling Elderflower and an Elderberry cordial. Delicious diluted down as a drink on its own or add a bar-spoon to a gin before topping up with tonic water. A nice addition to a dry Processo on Christmas morning. Alternatively due to the sugar content experiment and use in cocktails as you would a sugar syrup
Available from a huge range of stores nationwide (check their website for stockists. Alternatively buy directly from their website http://www.richmountcordials.ie €5.96 (incl. VAT)
3. Bean and Goose Smoky Salt Milk Chocolate
Chocolate in Ireland has come on leaps and bounds in recent years with many artisan chocolatiers creating exciting flavours from excellent quality cocoa beans. Mention here also to Grá Chocolates (https://grachocolates.com/) from pastry chef turned entrepreneur Gráinne Mullins who produces boxes of hand-painted delights of interesting flavours. Priced at €20 they’re worth a gift of themselves but seeing as I’m focusing on hamper inclusions I thought it best to offer the best of the bars. Bean and Goose based in Wexford is an endeavour by sisters Karen and Natalie Keane and they produce wonderfully luxurious chocolate of varying delights. Personally I have an inclination toward salt with chocolate, a touch of which really makes the flavours of the chocolate sing. It was a tough call between this and the the Salty Almonds but the smokiness of this one gives an interesting flavour profile with the Ecuadorian milk chocolate. Whichever bar or slab you choose you won’t be disappointed.
Available online at https://beanandgoose.ie/ €5.50 per 70g bar and also at speciality food stores across the country
4. Achill Island Sea Salt
We need to talk about salt. Essential for bringing out the flavour in all types of food, salt is an integral part of your kitchen. There are however different types of salt; a decent fine sea salt for general use such as in your pasta pot and then a really good quality finishing salt to add flavour to your dish. In terms of Irish salt it doesn’t come better than this. Soft and flaky in texture with a beautiful taste of the sea this will accentuate everything including sweet dishes. Add a touch to a chocolate cake to make the subtle flavours of the chocolate sing. They also stock a smoked salt and a seaweed salt as well as fudge that I haven’t tried but have heard excellent things about. I think this is a lovely, inexpensive addition to a hamper basket and I know I’d love to receive it. Yes, I’m the type of person that would like salt as a gift.
Available to buy online at https://achillislandseasalt.ie/ €3.75 per 75g jar. Also available in a multitude of stockists nationwide, with too many to mention check their website for a store near you.
5. Anam Coffee Organic Christmas Blend
Much like chocolate written about and recommended a few weeks ago, I feel like coffee has seen a huge transformation in quality over the past number of years with everyone from Frank and Peter at Cloud Picker (https://cloudpickercoffee.ie/), Colin at 3fe (https://3fe.com/), Calendar Coffee in Galway (https://calendarcoffee.ie/), Ponaire in Tipperary (https://www.ponaire.ie/) bringing our understanding about and expectations on what coffee can be to a whole new level. The list goes on and on and I have no doubt that I’ve unintentionally omitted some fantastic coffee roasters but that of course is not my intention. Brian O’Briain runs Anam coffee from his micro roastery in the Burren, Co. Clare. This year they have launched an organic Christmas blend and in the spirit of giving that is the season they are donating €1 from each sale to local charities that support victims of domestic abuse. Full disclosure, I haven’t yet tasted this particular blend but I have enjoyed Anam coffee for many years and can attest to the quality. If the wonderful aromas of dark chocolate and winter spice that came from the packaging of my order are anything to go by you’re in for a treat on Christmas morning. Available in either wholebean or pre-ground in 250g or 1kg packages (€12-€30.50. This package was €12.75 for a 250g bag pre-ground) Whatever you decide make sure to support your favourite Irish coffee roaster this Christmas.
Available online at https://www.anamcoffee.ie/product/our-christmas-coffee-navidad-blend/
Stockists include McCambridge’s Galway, The Cheese Press Ennistymon, This Must Be The Place Westport, Opera Patissiere Wicklow Town, Siar Kinvara, The Green Onion Limerick, and various shops in Ennis including The Wine Buff.
6. Abernethy Butter
I can easily say with confidence that this country has the finest dairy in the world. Linked to our luscious grass rich grazing environment that our cattle mostly enjoy, it also aids the quality of beef from Irish reared cattle. In this vein I would happily recommend any of the vast quality butters that is produced here from Cuinneog (http://www.cuinneog.com/) which produces a beautiful country style butter, to I won’t lie who doesn’t love a bitta Kerrygold? However there is one that quite frankly stands out for me and that is Abernethy butter. Made by hand using traditional methods they offer regular salted, unsalted, dulse, black garlic, smoked, and recently chipotle chilli and smoked paprika. What Christmas hamper is complete without some quality butter? Once you taste it you’ll know exactly what I mean. This will happily keep in the fridge for 12 weeks or in your freezer for 6 months.
Available online at https://abernethybutter.com/store/ £2 – £2.30 per 125g packs
Stockists include Ardkeen Food Store, Waterford and online (https://www.ardkeen.com/) Fallon and Byrne, Dublin, FX Buckley Butchers and Deli, Dublin. For a full range of stockists in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland see https://abernethybutter.com/outlets/
7. The Lodge Barna Mustards
Brigid Brophy has created a number of unique artisan mustards with some wonderful combinations involving Galway Hooker Beer and Dingle Gin to name but a few. Stretching your imagination of flavours there is also exceptionally sound thought behind them with the Buckie, a sweet and zingy fusion or indeed the Clove Spiced, both of which would make for incredible glazes for your Christmas ham. For an excellent all rounder I think the Horseradish Mustard is tangy and smooth with a well measured kick. All of these are excellent in sandwiches, as accompaniments with cold cuts and cheese and in sauces and stews.
Available from select stockists in Galway, Dublin and Kerry. Check out http://www.thelodgebarnamustards.com/ for a full list of stockists in your area RRP €3 – €3.95