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The Essential Holiday Gift Guide for Local Food Lovers

A tin full of cookies is always nice, but how about fancy cheese or a night out on the town? Read on.

A tin full of cookies is always nice, but how about fancy cheese or a night out on the town? Read on.

In an alternate universe somewhere there is a better version of you, a version who says, "Hooray! Holiday gift-giving time! I know exactly what to get Grandpa Lou even though he gave up drinking Scotch and Scotch was virtually the only thing he truly loved so that's all we ever bought for him! It's cool! I got this!"

Friends, this is not that alternate universe and you are not that better you. You need help and we are here with just the thing: food.

Lucky for us, it's a wonderful time of year for the local food lover -- special treats, both delicious to eat and pleasingly packaged, abound. And though Grandpa Lou might not care where the truffles you bought were made, you can feel good about keeping it local.

See also: The Essential Holiday Gift Guide for Local Beer Lovers

10. Chocolate and Sweets Somebody on your list has a sweet tooth (or more likely, several somebodies). Minneapolis chocolatier B.T. McElrath has a new bar this season called the Changemaker, dark chocolate with crushed espresso beans made in collaboration with Dunn Bros coffee. In keeping with its name, 20 percent of proceeds go to the American Refugee Committee.

For exquisite presentation, look no further than Mademoiselle Miel's Noel Box, a stunning cobalt case of truffles with intriguing flavor combinations like smoked Scotch and toasted hazelnut with juniper essence. We're also fans of their classic truffle, the honey bon-bon.

Mademoiselle Miel honey bon-bons.

Mademoiselle Miel honey bon-bons.

Another sweet option is a box of adorable Thumbs Cookies. A half-pound box holds up to 30 tiny cookies in five different flavors ranging from Rosemary Pecan to Ginger Clove to Lemon Thyme.

Going to a family gathering and want to bring a special dessert? Patisserie 46 carries several classic Christmas delicacies from the German Stollen to the Italian Pannetone, each more beautiful than the next. If you really want to impress, special order a Bûche de Noël, a stunning cake made to look like a Yule log.

9. Healthy Snacks Some people on your list may prefer a healthier gift. Although we can't imagine why when there are cookies to be had, we're here to help. Eden Apple Chips may seem underwhelming -- they're just dried apple slices seasoned with a bit of cinnamon -- but they are crispy, tart, and seriously addictive.

Healthy meets delicious with Isadore Nut Company's roasted pecans, walnuts, and cashews with a hint of maple syrup. They come in three flavors: Zesty Lemon Rosemary, Cinnamon Spice, and Cayenne Kick. Bliss Gourmet Foods offers a special holiday trail mix this time of year, in addition to their granola and muesli. A robust blend of roasted pistachios, almonds, cashews, and dried fruit, the mix is a sweet and satisfying source of energy.

8. Booze Mixers Cocktail bitters have been having a moment and that moment keeps going. Now shrubs are getting in on the action. In case you didn't get the memo, a shrub is a fruit-infused vinegar with added sugar and spices that makes for a refreshing, if not unusual, mixer for cocktails. Heath Glen, a Forest Lake company known for knockout jams, has joined the shrub club with flavors like Rhubarb, Orange Fennel, and Raspberry Tarragon. You could add a bottle of Prairie Gin and you'd be all set.

Going back to basics, and by that we mean bitters, there are two great local options: Bittercube and Dashfire. Match up your relative's drink of choice with an appropriate variety of bitters -- Dashwood's Brandy Old Fashioned bitters are a nice choice. For the more ambitious among us, Easy & Oskey has a Make Your Own Bitters kit that comes with everything you need except the alcohol. Choose from three flavors: Cherry, Habanero, and Orange. Or go really wild and pick Naked, a blank canvas that lets inspiration be your guide.

7. Cheese For cheese lovers there could be no better gift than a CSA from Shepherd's Way Farms. Granted, it requires a bit of work on the part of the recipient, but it's worth it. For a 6- or 12-month period, CSA members receive a monthly cheese share of four to six pieces. The assortment may include familiar Shepherd's Way products like the award-winning Big Woods Blue, more hard-to-find seasonal varieties like the morel mushroom-infused Morcella, or brand new cheeses that have yet to reach a wider audience. As with any CSA, the funds go to support the work of the farm, and members often receive exclusive invitations to events. Cheese shares are delivered once a month to several retailers around the Twin Cities.

6. Honey Bare Honey makes the question of what to spread on your toast much more enticing with their Creamed Cinnamon Honey. Perfect for toast, tea, or oatmeal, the homey combination of cinnamon and honey brings back warm childhood memories. A second spreadable option is their Vanilla Bean Spoon Honey, rich with flecks of Tahitian vanilla beans. If you want to take it a bit farther, Bare Honey offers an Adopt-a-Hive-Program, perfect for inquisitive little kids. Along with email updates about your hive's status throughout the season, participants are invited to extract three pounds of honey at the end of the season (supervised and outfitted in a bee-safe suit).

For the adults on your list, Turkey Hill Apiary in Lakeville has a bourbon barrel-aged honey that would be great in cocktails. Wildflower honey gains smoky, charred notes thanks to the bourbon-saturated oak wood it's aged in. For whiskey drinkers, there's a Rye Whiskey honey available too.

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5. Jam We mentioned Heath Glen above, but it bears repeating -- they are making the best local jam around. If you're looking for interesting flavors that utilize seasonal fruits, liqueurs, and herbs, look no further. In 2013 the Good Food Awards anointed Heath Glen's Raspberry Chambord jam a winner. We couldn't agree more.

Further up I-35 there's the Duluth Preserving Company, another company making specialty small-batch jams that highlight Midwest flavors. Their Strawberry Rhubarb jam is a taste of spring in the middle of the winter -- Finke's Berry Farm strawberries married with Duluth-grown rhubarb, both picked at the height of the season.

4. Breakfast Peace Coffee has a heavyweight lineup of beans, but did you know they make some pretty darn cute gift baskets, too? We love their offerings for this holiday season, especially the "Birchwood Breakfast Bundle," featuring a bag of Birchwood granola, Peace Coffee's Birchwood blend, and a couple glass mugs to get you into the spirit. Their "Minnesota Breakfast in Bed Bundle" is equally charming with a bottle of Wild Country maple syrup and a bag of Whole Grain Milling's harvest grains pancake mix thrown in for good measure.

3. Coffee If you want to give the caffeine high that keeps on giving, consider a coffee subscription from Dogwood Coffee. You can choose between a Neon espresso and a Roaster's Choice coffee subscription, both are roasted and sent out on the first Monday of the month. To turbo charge it, add an additional bag per month to either subscription.

Fika Coffee out of Grand Marais also offers door-to-door coffee service with a subscription plan. Choose from 1 to 3-lbs, roaster's choice, to be delivered monthly. Or, if you're in the market for just a bag or two, try their seasonal house blend, Sub Zero, crafted for this time of year when the days are short, but the nights are long.

Bittercube Bitters

Bittercube Bitters

2. Restaurant Gift Certificates Is this taking the easy way out? Not if a night on the town is what your parents really want. Consider this the gift of an experience, rather than just a gift. It's also a great way to support your favorite restaurant. From casual cafes to fine dining, introducing loved ones to your favorite spots is a thoughtful thing to do, though not entirely selfless if you pick up a gift card from the Parasole restaurant group. For every $100 you spend, you receive a $25 gift card to keep.

1. Call in the Experts When in doubt (or when you're simply running out of time), call in the experts. Shops like the Golden Fig in St. Paul make an art out of the local foods gift basket. And they make it really, really easy, too. You don't even have to step out your door. Just call them up, give them a budget and some basic parameters, and they will pull together a delicious assortment of goodies, wrap them up beautifully, write out a card and ship the gift on its merry little way. No one's the wiser.

Great places to shop for local food gifts: Cooks of Crocus Hill France 44 and the Saint Paul Cheese Shop Golden Fig Heartland Farm Direct Market (Closing New Year's Eve) Kitchen in the Market Local D'Lish Surdyk's

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