Even in a tough economy, the holiday season ushers in a time for gathering with friends and family. And those gatherings typically involve food and beverages. Whether you’re hosting a holiday event or attending one, artisan cheeses and wines can dress up any occasion. Those items also make great gifts. Here are a few local shops and recommendations:
The Resident Cheesemonger
In downtown Edmonds, The Resident Cheesemonger can help you put on a holiday party or select cheeses for gifts.
The locally owned shop doesn’t sell just cheese. “Cheese should never be eaten alone” is part of the store’s business philosophy. Not surprisingly then, you’ll find dozens of pairings for the cheeses you’ll find there.
Cheese specialist Monica Bennett helps customers choose accompaniments that best match with the cheeses they’ve selected. There’s a $7 container of quince paste to go with Spanish Manchego cheese. Grab some toasted almonds or olive oil crackers and you’ve got a nice Spanish spread.
Bennett makes a $25 gift box for a customer using a couple of cheeses made in the Northwest and a box of crackers. Mt. Townsend Creamery’s Sea Stack cheeses are among the Cheesemonger’s more popular items. There’s a raw cow milk cheese that’s made with Naughty Nellie’s Ale, brewed at Pike Pub and Brewery in Seattle. It sells for $7.50 per quarter pound.
The shop is also one of the few north of King County allowed to carry cured meats from Seattle’s Salumi. And among accompaniments such as truffle honey and artichoke and mushroom bruschetta spread, you’ll spot caramelized walnuts harvested in Cashmere.
The store stocks a few items only available for a limited time, such as a specialty Italian olive oil made from olives that are picked, pressed and bottled within 24 hours. The Cheesemonger also offers a holiday pear cheese — a Scottish cheddar blended with cream cheese and spiked with pear oil. Shaped like a pear, this cheese sells for $15.
If you’re buying a gift for a real cheesehead, you might want to splurge on the Cheesemonger’s “Cheese of the Month Club” in three, six or 12-month offerings, starting at $150. The shop also sells gift cards.
Despite the weak economy, the Cheesemonger has continued to do fairly well, said Strom Peterson, store owner. In uncertain times like these, people tend to place an emphasis on spending time with friends and families, he said. And that’s where the Cheesemonger comes into play.
The shop can prepare cheese platters for parties in less than two hours at a cost of $5 to $10 per person. And the Cheesemonger offers cheese parties, which start at about $50 per guest.
Whether you’re buying a gift for wine lover or grabbing a bottle for your holiday feast, head over to Wicked Cellars in downtown Everett.
“We try to find things that are not mass-produced, that you wouldn’t find everywhere,” said Kevin Nasr, shop owner.
The wine shop also can customize baskets of wine and accompaniments, starting at about $50. But it also sells several wine-related gifts. Nasr points to the Eisch breathable glasses, which sell for $19.95 each.
Rather than airing wine for an hour in a decanter, wine aficionados can wait a mere two to four minutes and get the same results for wine poured into the breathable glasses, Nasr said.
You’ll find both the practical and the frivolous at the Wicked Cellar, from a kit for removing red wine stains to holiday-themed wine stoppers.
A true wine lover might enjoy a carrying case for his or her wine glasses. The leather case carries a minimum of four glasses and sells for $65.95.
“If you’re going to a friend’s place and you know they have bad glassware, you can bring your own,” Nasr said.
Painted, festive Lolita-brand glasses are priced at $23.95. Each glass features a theme — divorce, 19th hole, electric Christmas, flirt — and carries a drink recipe on the bottom.
In terms of wine, Nasr has noticed a decline in sales of expensive bottles as the economy has weakened.
But “people are still drinking,” he said.
With that in mind, Nasr has focused on stocking quality $10 to $15 bottles of wine that people can enjoy at any time.
He offered a few picks with different price points:
Domaine Serene’s 2005 “Evenstad Reserve” Pinot Noir
At $55.99 a bottle, this wine would go well with Christmas dinner for those willing to spring for a special bottle to share this holiday season. Wine Spectator ranked this wine 68th in its list of the top 100 wines of 2008.
Furion Cellars’ 2006 “Les Parfums” Syrah
This Everett-based wine maker honors the rise of Coco Channel and “commercial haute couture parfume” with this syrah. The wine, which sells for $23.99 a bottle, reminds the vinter of the power of the world’s parfumes.
Maryhill’s 2006 “Winemaker’s Red”
Wicked Cellars sells this red for $11.99 a bottle. And Nasr calls it a “great everyday” wine.
The Tablas Creek Vineyard’s 2006 “Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc” blend
Nasr describes this as an “all-around great white wine.” The California-based winemaker grows grapes on a certified organic vineyard. This blend consists of 65 percent Roussanne, 30 percent Grenache Blanc and 5 percent Picpoul Blanc grapes. A bottle sells for $37.99.
Anne Amie Vineyard’s 2006 Cuvee A Amrita
Wicked Cellars served this $14.99-per-bottle wine at a festival of trees event, where it was well-received by guests, Nasr said. This white wine is blend of six grapes.
Domaine Talmard 2007 Macon-Chardonnay
At $10.99 for a bottle, Nasr has dubbed this French wine the shop’s “ooh la la” find. You can spot a box of this chardonnay up near the cash register. “It’s a great everyday-drinking white wine,” Nasr said.
Reporter Michelle Dunlop: 425-339-3454 or email@example.com.