At holiday time, shoppers are more willing than ever to splurge on a chance at tickling someone's fancy. Since everybody eats, food is the ultimate one-size-fits-all gift.
That has led to a flood of questions about places where people can find something different, something local, worthy of gift-giving. (If you have your heart set on Hickory Farms summer sausage, you don't need help finding it.)
By expanding your definition of holiday gifts to include local delicacies, you can do more than surprise the recipient. Buying from Western New York's producers and merchants helps keep your neighbors' businesses or employers open and thriving.-
Lots of our readers are familiar with buying Buffalo-style sponge candy, smoked Polish sausage and easy-to-ship items like DiCamillo's biscotti and Weber's mustard. If you want to give locally made wine or cider, there are the Niagara and Lake Erie wine trails and local liquor stores.
This is a more eclectic list that runs from cinnamon rolls made from Hamburg-grown wheat to black truffle mortadella crafted from heritage-breed pigs raised in Lockport.
There probably are more than a few people on your gift list who would be thrilled to get a couple pounds of twice-smoked bacon instead of another tie. I can't be the only one.
Up in Niagara County, Singer Farm Naturals (6730 Lake Road, Appleton, 778-7077, singerfarmnaturals.com) has converted a barn into a retail outlet. Like many of the stores mentioned here, its staff can help shoppers build a gift basket around any particular items you select.
The dried Balaton cherries covered in dark chocolate ($13 for 15 ounces) are one of their most prized offerings. Singer Farm Naturals cherry concentrate packs the antioxidants of 20 to 25 pounds of fresh Niagara County cherries into a quart bottle that sells for $30, said owner Tom Szulist. People can buy at the store, through the website, Lexington Co-op, or Saturdays at the North Tonawanda Farmers' Market.
If you're opening gifts before breakfast, consider letting someone unwrap a granola sampler from the Elm Street Bakery (72 Elm St., East Aurora, elmstreetbakery.com).
The local foods specialist, which focuses on baked treats, bread and pizza from its wood-fired oven and on prepared foods, offers half-pound bags of three granolas made from organic rolled oats and natural sweeteners (mostly local maple syrup). Expect to see apricot pistachio ginger, cranberry pumpkin (with pumpkin seeds), and maple raisin walnut. It's $14.95 in a faux-wood gift basket.
Another breakfast-oriented choice that's perfect for whole-grain fans are the whole-wheat cinnamon rolls at Five Points Bakery (426 Rhode Island St., 884-8888, fivepointsbakery.com). The rolls are made from wheat grown in Hamburg and ground at Five Points, Jersey butter and other good stuff, said owner Kevin Gardner. They're over four ounces each, sweetened with Fiegel Apiaries honey from Appleton, and come with Madagascar bourbon vanilla icing on the side.
You can pick them up at the store unbaked, a dozen for $25. To get them shipped to your door within the one-day shipping zone, baked and ready for reheating, they're $48.
There's a lot of different and delicious things at Nickel City Cheese and Mercantile (423 Elmwood Ave., 882-3068, nickelcitycheese.com), starting with cheese from around the globe. Owner Jill Forster makes Wisconsin chevre into goat cheese truffles, rolled in Callebaut bittersweet chocolate ($2.25 each). Her shelves hold a curated collection of oils, salts, crackers and other culinary exotica.
The shop is also the only retail outlet for COPPA Artisan Cured Meats, Italian-style salumi made by Bruce Wieszala, a veteran chef whose regular gig is Carmelo's in Lewiston. He is taking heritage-breed pigs raised in Lockport's T-Meadow Farm and turning them into salumi, like culatello, coppa, lardo and regular mortadella with pistachios. Then there are the seasonal mortadellas, one seasoned with Tennessee black truffles and another with cranberries and sage.
The truffle number is $29 a pound, the others around $21. Forster said she's happy to build platters to any price point.
Another lesser-known stop for meat lovers is Spar's European Sausage Shop (405 Amherst St., 876-6607, sparseuropeansausage.com). There, owner Joe Kennedy is turning out a wide variety of German, Polish, Ukrainian and other sausages, fresh and smoked.
He's also turning T-Meadow pork bellies into some of the best bacon in town, at $12.99 a pound. It's in limited supply, as Kennedy turns two pigs a month into chops, bacon, hot dogs and other products. But if they run out, the consolation prize is Spar's double-smoked maple bacon, $7.99 a pound.
While we're talking about meat, it's appropriate to note that you can get a turducken made fresh at Camillo's Sloan Market (494 Reiman St., Sloan, 896-8982, sloansupermarket.com).
Camillo's butchers fashioned more than 100 for Thanksgiving, so they know how to fit a deboned chicken inside a duck inside a turkey, with stuffing. Owner Dave Camillo said they're $3.99 a pound, range from 15 to 30 pounds, and require three day's notice.
Homegrown snack favorite Niagara Popcorn (Broadway Market, 999 Broadway St., niagarapopcorn.com) offers snazzy popcorn – like caramel curry – and chocolate-covered popcorn in many flavors ($6, 8-ounce bag) including a holiday favorite, dark chocolate peppermint popcorn ($6.50). "That's special for the holidays," said co-owner Brad Mazon.
They're also known for popcorn cakes, popcorn-ball-like discs that serve a crowd ($20, 20 ounces). For the holidays, there is a 15-ouncer shaped like an evergreen tree ($10).
Order through the website with a credit card, or buy in person, cash only, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays.
On Niagara Street, Gondola Macaroni (1985 Niagara St., 874-4280) has been making fresh and dried pastas since the 1960s. It offers spinach, tomato, carrot, garlic and parsley, squid ink and other flavors of dried fettucine (12-ounce package, $2.50).
Gondola also makes fresh pasta on Tuesday, said owner Maria Insalaco. Order ahead for fresh fettucine and spaghettini. Ravioli stuffed with spinach and cheese, meat and an imitation-crab-lobster blend are also available. For a box of 96 spinach and cheese, it's $10, and lobster blend ravioli is $4.25 per 9.5-ounce package.
Ice cream isn't generally considered a holiday gift, but Lake Effect Ice Cream (20 Lock St., Lockport) might change that. For $20, the hometown ice cream maker is offering a four-pint assortment of holiday ice creams (English Sticky Toffee, Cranberry Cheesecake White Chocolate, Deep Black Forest, White Wine Poached Pear with Caramelized Pistachio).
Order through lakeeffecticecream.blogspot.com, for pickup on Dec. 21 or 22.
Another sweet idea is Merle Maple's Extra Dark Cooking Maple Syrup, a Grade B syrup that packs heartier maple flavor than Grade A amber, and is especially effective in baked goods or other things besides topping pancakes. It's the work of Attica's Merle Maple Farm (http://merlemaple.com, 1884 Creek Road Attica; 585-535-7136).
It's $11.99 for 16 ounces at Premier Gourmet (3904 Maple Road, Amherst, 877-3574, www.premiergourmet.com).
Premier buyer Jerry Cieselski recommends another local favorite, Lewiston Jellies' Fall Flower Honey, a Niagara County product, 16 ounces, for $6.99. It's available at Premier or through Lewiston Jellies' site, [URL]lewistonjellies.com;http://lewistonjellies.com, which offers an assortment of other jellies made from local fruit, including Catawba Raspberry, $4.99 for 12 ounces.
Farmers & Artisans (78 E. Spring St., Williamsville, 633-2830, http://farmersandartisans.com) carries lots of specialty food products, including Blackman Homestead Farm's Concord grape filling. A 32-ounce jar ($11) is enough to fill a 9-inch pie shell, said owner Julie Blackman. There's also Blackman cherry-almond and pear-port fruit butters, $7 for 10-ounce jar.
Another choice at Farmers & Artisans that hails from Niagara County is Murphy Orchards blueberry syrup, $4.99 for an 8-ounce bottle.
More retail establishments that devote shelf space to such local delicacies include Guercio & Sons (250 Grant St., 882-7935, http://guercioandsons.com/[URL]), Vidler's 5 & 10 (676 Main St., East Aurora, 652-0481, [URL]vidlers5and10.com;http://vidlers5and10.com/[URL]), and the Lexington Co-op (807 Elmwood Ave., 886-2667, http://lexington.coop).