By Lucas Witman
Although many wait the whole year for the holiday season to begin, there are undeniable pressures that come hand-in-hand with this time of family festivity. There are decorations to be hung, gifts to be purchased, greeting cards to be mailed and, of course, holiday gatherings to be planned. For the host or hostess tasked with gathering friends and family together to celebrate, finding simple, but gourmet, ready-to-serve hors d’oeuvres, desserts and meal accompaniments can be a tremendous help in easing the pressures of the occasion. However, today’s holiday entertainer is not likely to be satisfied with presenting her or his guests with a simple pre-cut cheese or crudités platter from the local deli or a dish of bland, dry sugar cookies out of the box.
For hosts and hostesses choosing to serve their guests simple-to-prepare, ready-made menu offerings, it is important that these items taste neither simple or ready-made. Standards are high, especially during the holiday season, and today’s consumer will only place items on their holiday table that are unique and artisanal and which they are truly proud to present to their fellow revelers. However, the good news is that an ever increasing number of companies are doing their best to create ready-to-serve holiday foods that are truly gourmet.
When it comes to the sheer diversity of products offered that will fit perfectly on any holiday table, it is hard to beat the product portfolio of Robert Rothschild Farm. The Gourmet Cranberry Sauce from Robert Rothschild Farm is the ideal side dish for Thanksgiving dinner. Or serve Cranberry Pomegranate Chutney with a Christmas ham, expertly prepared using the company’s Maple Brown Sugar Ham Glaze. For a sweet treat, the company offers such holiday favorites as Spiced Maple Pumpkin Dip, Pumpkin Curd, Buttery Cookie Caramel Sauce and Peppermint Candy Cane Dip. Or customers can opt for something savory, like the company’s Artichoke and Aged Parmesan Spread, served with Olive Oil and Sea Salt Crackers.
“It’s really nice a lot of pairings that we do. We really thought ahead about what we can do that goes with other products,” said Kim Maalouf, Director of Marketing for Robert Rothschild Farm. “So we did shortbread cookies which are great with our new preserves that we just launched. We did pretzel bread, and the pretzel bread is delicious…It’s great, because you can just dip it into our new cheese dips.”
When it comes to end-of-year gatherings, perhaps the most common party food is the cheese plate. Even here, though, today’s consumer seeks perfection. Tara Kirch, Director of Marketing for Best Cheese Corporation, a leading importer of specialty European cheeses, shared her advice for putting together the perfect cheese plate.
“I try to stick with the flavors of the season,” Kirch said. “Knowing that we’re going to be drinking heavier beers and heavier wines—I’m a big pairing person, so I keep that in mind. The rule of thumb is get a fresh cheese, get a bleu cheese, get a hard cheese. And try to mix the milk. So, try to do a goat cheese, a cow cheese and a sheep cheese. That way you get a really nice variance of cheese across the board.”
Best Cheese Corporation offers a number of cheeses that would fit seamlessly into any holiday gathering. Chief among these is perhaps Melkbus Winter, a truly remarkable raw milk young Gouda from Holland that is studded with nutmeg, clove, cinnamon, mace and pepper, all the flavors one associates with this time of year. Kirch recommends pairing Melkbus Winter with one of the company’s harder aged cheeses like their Vintage 3-Year Gouda or Uniekaas Reserve 18-Month Gouda.
“The reason why I [recommend] the aged goudas is that they just stand up to the heartier meals that you’re going to have during that time of year,” Kirch said. “The food shifts. It’s a little bit creamier. It’s a little bit heartier. And those really stand up to the flavors of the season.”
When it comes to dessert, it can be a little more difficult to plan something unexpected for a holiday party, since the expectations are so high that certain sweet treats will be available. However, one can still stick with the flavors of the season while thinking slightly outside-the-box.
Susanne Witte Settineri, President and CEO of Carl Brandt, Inc., recommends looking to German holiday staples in order to find desserts that will impress, but still satisfy holiday cravings. Stollen, for example, is a uniquely German Christmas tradition that will not taste unfamiliar to American palates. “[It is] not to be mistaken with the American fruitcake, although it does have fruit,” she said. “If you have to explain it to someone who has never experienced it, it’s more in the direction of a panettone—panettone being more bread-like and stollen being more cake-like. It is quite delicious.” Witte Settineri also recommends checking out lebkuchen, a German version of gingerbread.
Of course no end-of-year fete would be complete without the appropriate libation. For party hosts wanting to incorporate the latest trends in gourmet cocktails into their events, the answer can be as simple as pulling out the appropriate gourmet mixer. Started in 2010 in Brooklyn, Emily Rose Syrups offers artisanal small batch cocktail syrups in flavors as unique as lavender lemon, tamarind, three chili and rose.
“It makes entertaining really easy. Not only are they really unique flavors, they make your drink special, just by having it,” said Emily Butters, co-founder of Emily Rose Syrups. “Raspberry makes a really festive red color drink for the holidays, and the cardamom clove has that sort of spice cookie sort of flavor.”
The best thing about Emily Rose Syrups is how they simplify the task of tending bar. “If you’re having a crowd, you can just mix up a pitcher of whatever cocktail you’re going to serve, and then it takes all of the work out of the drink mixing,” Butters said. In addition, these syrups are perfect for family gatherings where not everyone is drinking alcohol. By combining these gourmet mixers with just a few simple ingredients, one can craft a festive non-alcoholic mocktail, perfect for toasting in the New Year.