10 Madison-based food gift ideas for the holiday season
Plus two different gift box ideas
The phrase “buy local” obviously is sound year-round advice. But when the holidays roll around, it takes on an additional, delicious poignancy. There’s just something heartwarming – not to mention undeniably tasty – about giving your friends and loved ones products and gift boxes made right here in the greater Madison area. Especially if they’re items you didn’t even know were being crafted, cooked and created in your own front yard. We know your holiday shopping time is precious, so we’ve constructed a list of can’t-miss local options. Seriously, put the gift cards and designer socks away and slide one (or maybe several) of these items under your holiday tree.
100 Mile Sauce Co.
If you hit up Wisconsin’s Best Bloody Mary Fest at Yahara Bay Distillers last September, you know how transcendent the bloody mary mix created by entrepreneurs Scott Kesling, Jeff Cullen and Bobby Marshment-Howell really is. The company makes both a regular bloody mary mix and a hot-and-spicy variety, which is packed with Wisconsin habaneros for a drink with a punch. 100milesauce.com, 535-9095
Dashelito Enterprises LLC
Anyone who’s ever watched a video of “Hot Ones” from YouTube’s First We Feast channel knows how much fun consuming food made with deliciously scorching hot sauce can be – both for the eater and the spectator. Compiling your own set of Dashelito’s eyebrow-raising sauces into a gift box is a great way to get that party started. Include the original – the Green Fire sauce made from blackened jalapeños and garlic – and toss in some curveballs to make it extra interesting. We recommend the Blackout, made with blueberries and habanero peppers, or the Bourbonero, a sweet potato hot sauce punched up with habanero and, duh, bourbon. You may also want to gift a 16-pack of water bottles. 100 S. Baldwin St., dashelitos.com, 721-9311
Asian sauces can be tricky targets to hit, but Josey Chu, the culinary ace behind Madame Chu’s sauces, makes it look like a snap. Her handcrafted Satay Peanut Nyonya is among the best peanut sauces you’ll ever taste: thick, spicy and sweet. And here’s the really good news: Given that Chu currently offers only three products (Satay Peanut Nyonya, Sambal Nyonya – a red chili paste – and a sweet ginger-garlic sauce that elevates ramen to another level), you can easily package all
three into a single gift. madame-chu.com
The nutcracker we typically think of this time of year is a bearded, dancing soldier. To be honest, we’d rather be popping sweet and crunchy candied pecans from Nutkrack, the east-side shop owned by Eric Rupert, a chef and team leader at Epic Systems Corp. Or, more to the point, begging the person to whom we’ve just given a jar of them to share a handful or two. Rupert’s pecans come attractively packaged in 16-, 8- and 4-ounce tins, making them perfect for a stand-alone gift or a stocking stuffer. 2086 Atwood Ave., nutkrack.com, 709-1077
Old Sugar Distillery
There’s always been something inherently classy about alcohol-based gift boxes – the bottles, the labels, the etched glass, etc. Old Sugar Distillery falls squarely into that tradition with a shocking number of gorgeously designed gift sets that showcase the distillery’s brandies, whiskeys and rums. Your options, available in the distillery’s tasting room, range from the Waubesa ($35), which pairs a modest bottle of your choice with a T-shirt and a tumbler glass, all the way up to the Mendota ($100), which contains five small bottles (ouzo, honey liqueur, brandy, sorghum whiskey and rum) and a pair of tumbler glasses. Or gift one of the used barrels OSD deploys to distill its offerings – yes, you really can buy them for $180. There’s room under the tree – and in the man cave, and the rec room – for several. 931 E. Main St., oldsugardistillery.com, 260-0812
Porchlight has helped the homeless in Madison for more than three decades, in part by training some of its clients to produce amazing spreads, pancake mixes and pickled products made from ingredients grown by local farmers. We’re partial to the apple butter – the snickerdoodles you can make using it are truly heavenly – but the sauerkraut is pretty special, too. Best of all, you won’t have to look high and low for any of Porchlight’s products, as they’re readily available at numerous local grocery outlets. 1704 Thierer Road, porchlightinc.org, 620-7792
The Quince and Apple Co.
Quince and Apple, the undisputed king of local gift-box goodness, will make your giftee feel like the holidays have come thrice or four times over. Choosing from nine different boxes can feel overwhelming, so let us direct you a little: Splurge on the Midwest Artisans box, which, in addition to three jars of yummy Quince and Apple preserves, also includes a box of Potter’s crackers, salami from Underground Meats, a chocolate bar from Wm. Chocolate, honey, stone-ground mustard, dried cranberries, a bamboo cheeseboard and mini bamboo serving spoons. This box also contains a container of spiced pecans from Treat, acquired by Quince and Apple in 2018. If you’re interested in gilding your gift with a current food trend, you could consider throwing in some CBD-infused candy from The Modern Candy Co. (included in the Midwest Artisans box), which Quince and Apple launched in 2019. 931 E. Main St., quinceandapple.com, 301-5433
The grill master in your life is going to fire right up after opening a starter kit from this spice merchant, one of several local purveyors on this list located in the east-side FEED Kitchens space in the Northgate Shopping Center. The kit features both an original and rosemary brine to tenderize your grillables, pink Himalayan salt and a whopping eight different spices and dry rubs. Our fave is the Over the Top rub, blending rosemary, thyme and garlic, but the company’s signature Burger Jazz is equally awesome. 1219 N. Sherman Ave., sparkspices.com, 715-321-1350
Holidays are all about baking, sure, but let’s be honest: Sometimes whipping up several plates of gingerbread and sugar cookies for the folks on your gift list is simply beyond your reach (for some of us, that’s a year-round issue). That’s where Ana Luyet and Carissa Mangerson come in. Their sweet and savory tarts, pies, cookies and scones offer a symphony of flavors. Options change monthly to feature seasonal produce. They’re available frozen at Pasture and Plenty in Madison, so unless you opt to specially order them, you’ll probably need to wrap your gift in a cooler. Pasture and Plenty: 2433 University Ave., tartbakedgoods.com
The slogan for Jonny Hunter’s meat shop on Willy Street is “Buy Curious,” which seems like it ought to suit the idea of gift-giving just fine. And it does: Underground Meats’ Holiday Gift Tube – seriously, who doesn’t want to open a tube full of meat and cheese? – comes packed with three types of salami, a summer sausage, a quarter pound of Pleasant Ridge Reserve cheese from Uplands Cheese Co., a quarter pound of Pecora Nocciola from Landmark Creamery and Collective Goods’ cheddar crackers, candied pecans and apple cranberry compote. They could also have called this the “instant charcuterie board.” Underground Butcher: 811 Williamson St., undergroundmeats.com (Underground Butcher is closing Dec. 15.)
Gift Box by You
Sure, you could opt for a gift box assembled by a local business – we’ve certainly mentioned several places that do a beautiful job pairing products in pretty packages. Or you could go the DIY route. Going rogue gives you the option to dive deep on a collection of Madison’s best food options, while allowing you to tailor your final selections to the specific taste of the giftee. Imagine, if you will, a tasteful package that combines a bottle of New Glarus Brewing Co.’s cherry-licious Wisconsin Belgian Red, a block of Hook’s 5-year-old aged cheddar, a bag of cheddar- and jalapeño-flavored Slide gourmet potato chips, ghost pepper caramels from Madison Chocolate Co., a bottle of organic mango turmeric kombucha from NessAlla Kombucha and a sampler pack of organic sodas from Wisco Pop! Beverage Co. Your gifting cred could be set for the next five years.
Gift Box by Somebody Else
OK, we’ve all been there – completely out of time to shop, and that holiday shipping deadline that seemed weeks away is suddenly upon you. Don’t fret. You can still deliver a cleverly curated, Wisconsin-themed gift box by WiscoBoxes, and many of its themed offerings will probably hit the local faves of everyone on your list. Feeling generous? The large version of the Wisco Sampler includes everything from a bottle of Big Red Stuff wine from Botham Vineyards & Winery to a Wisconsin-shaped chunk of cheddar from Jim’s Cheese and a chocolate cow from Sjölinds Chocolate. The Purebred Cheesehead, meanwhile, might not last a full Packers game, but it’ll look nice until it’s gone. Highlights include Ehlenbach’s Cheese Chalet’s yellow cheddar curds and a package of the Baraboo Candy Co.’s Green Bay Puddles (peanuts in caramel and chocolate). And while actual Spotted Cow isn’t part of the deal, a New Glarus Brewing Co. beer chaser might be in order after enjoying all of the edible goodies. wiscoboxes.com
Aaron R. Conklin covers food and theater for Madison Magazine.
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