Product trial: Grey’s Christmas Hamper

Last week I caught a television programme about the upmarket store Liberty of London. It charted the establishment’s history as an emporium which brought items of wonder from the east to us in the west.

That tradition of seeking out items of wonder from far-off lands is something that’s much more difficult in these global times but our desire to be delighted is unlikely to ever be diminished.

It struck me that the same challenge can be seen when it comes to our forever roaming tastes in the culinary world. With supermarkets offering international food items sourced around the globe and online specialist sites offering just about anything your imagination could seek to find.

So when it comes to specialist food offerings, suppliers have to work hard to find that certain something that will whet our purchasing appetites. Enter Grey’s Fine Foods from North Yorkshire, they’re offering the best in Spanish food and sent me a selection in one of their Christmas hampers to try. Here’s what I found:

greys
Minimalist

Packaging
The hamper is actually a wooden crate – stylish in that designer, minimalist way. Inside all the goods are wrapped and nestling inside paper filling so there’s some excitement to digging in to find out what’s inside – a bit like a lucky dip! I liked the style of it all and, when it comes to hampers, those first impressions count for a lot.

Contents
The company promises that the contents inside will ‘surprise anyone during the festivities’. There’s certainly a good range – from their trademark charcuterie from Iberian breed pigs to luxury storecupboard items. This is a hamper for people who like to cook as well as eat, so alongside the award-winning ham there’s also a beautifully presented essentials like the Senorio de Vizcantar extra virgin olive oil which blends three olive varieties and some proper hot smoked paprika.

For the sweet-toothed there’s the traditional Christmas after dinner sweet of Turron de Jijona and an exquisite chocolate that’s blended with olive oil and sea alt. This unusual mixture comes from the Basque chocolatier Alma de Cacao and I haven’t tasted anything quite like it – rich yet light with a melting texture, it really is a remarkable dark chocolate experience. Spanish foods

Verdict
I loved it. At £50 the Grey’s Christmas Hamper would seem to be pretty good value given the quality of the contents if you’re looking for an unusual and stylish gift for the foodie in your life. Definitely something that will tickle the interest of even the most jaded tastebuds.

The Grey’s Christmas Hamper costs £50 is one of a range starting from £35. Delivery is usually 3-7 days but they offer a one-day service too if you plan to order for Christmas.

* The hamper was provided free of charge for review purposes. Please note, if you wish to provide goods for review, they are accepted on the understanding that good, bad or indifferent, this blog’s product trials section strives to say it as we find it.

Product trial: John Lewis Christmas trug hamper

johnlewishamperJohn Lewis seems to have entered the British psyche when it comes to Christmas – whether the television advertising delights or annoys you, there’s no getting away from the fact that the retailer’s become synonymous with seasonal provisions.

The arrival of a hamper from the store has become a mini-tradition in our household too so when John Lewis asked if I’d like to try out their latest offering I was intrigued to see what would be different about it.

And so here we are, in November having a bit of an early festive treat to share with you.

Packaging
The most obvious thing to notice first is there’s no traditional wicker basket. Instead this ‘trug’ hamper comes in smart, contemporary leather bag.

Of course the creak of leather and the flicker of candlelight in front of the fire can be just as Christmass-ey as the more usual wicker picnic-basket style of annual treat and, depending on your decor, this upmarket packaging might just be a better fit with your modern festivities.

(I think it might well end up as our kindling basket – unless the cat takes up residence in there first!)

Contents

johnlewishamperThis a selection of store cupboard luxuries rather than dinner table essentials for the big day so there’s plenty of those treats which everyone loves. Turkey and sprouts will have to be catered for elsewhere because this hamper is all about those little extras which can help the fetivities go with a little more spice and sparkle.

On the booze front, there’s a rich, deep bottle of Sangiovese Poggio della Quercia IGT Rubicone. Great with the cheese board or just as a tipple in front of the fire.

And the cheeseboard gets some further attention with some of the savoury items including the smooth Cairnsmhor Crushed Black Pepper Crackers and Claire’s Handmade Red Onion Marmalade from Cumbria which is now a firm favourite for sandwiches, goats cheese and anything else that needs an intense flavour.

For the sweet-toothed, it’s all quite chocolate focussed. There’s light and buttery Edinburgh Preserves Chocolate Chip Cookies and Fudges Belgian Milk Chocolate Florentines but the stand-out treat are the moreish Ferdia Milk Chocolate Salted Caramels with their intense soft centres.

Verdict
It’s certainly got the wow factor with the different appearance from the packaging and the treats inside will suit most tastes. At £65 it’s at the lower end of what hampers can cost when you order them online like this (the most expensive hamper offered costs an eye-watering £800!) but the value of the goods wouldn’t really stack up if you bought them individually. It’s really the novelty of the packaging and excitement of exploring it that you’re sending as a gift – a special treat for a style conscious person who likes to entertain in the run up to Christmas.

* The goods from the John Lewis Christmas hamper were provided free of charge for review purposes. Please note, if you wish to provide goods for review, they are accepted on the understanding that good, bad or indifferent, this blog’s product trials section strives to say it as we find it.

Product trial: Gift hamper from Forman and Field

hamper
The hamper revealed!

I’m a bit of a sucker for hampers, to be honest, not least because you end up with a lovely storage box for your trouble but also it’s exciting opening it up to find out what’s inside.

So when FormanandField.com asked if I’d like to try one of their popular gift hampers, it was time to clear some space in the fridge.

It’s not a company I’ve come across before, based in London, and specialising in British food – so what’s in the box?

Packaging: Didn’t disappoint. A lovely wicker hamper stuffed with goodies carefully packed and protected. Delving in was a bit like a lucky dip….a small glass of potted lobster, a pork pie….. a box of luxury chocs……what would be unearthed next?

Contents: A great selection of luxury goods. Sometimes hampers look better than the sum of what’s inside and I’ve been disappointed in the past to encounter some really ordinary biscuits or a relish which you could buy anywhere, but this selection was very much aimed at us foodies.

The smoked salmon from H Forman and Son was especially good – thick and with their hallmark ‘London cure’ which is lighter and less salty than a traditional Scottish smokery.

The selection of cheese was also very interesting – even if the one did manage to overwhelm the fridge with its ‘fragrance’! I could be wrong, but I believe that was the Innes Log, described on the website as ‘a nutty, goaty delight’. One for adventurous cheese lovers only!

The others, a blue and two hard cheeses, were unfamiliar to me but well worth exploring and are featured in greater detail here.

Away from the meat, cheese and fish there were some sweet treats too. I loved the little pot of sharp lemon curd, the tea infused chocolate truffles and the cakes were….well, gone too soon! The chances of them reaching the seven day ‘eat before’ date needed because of the fresh ingredients in the chocolate brownie and banana cake are pretty slim.

Verdict: It was a treat in a box and, while not cheap – the smallest hamper retails at £34.95 and the most expensive a whacking £219.95 – the quality of the produce and its British pedigree would make it a great gift choice for the foodie in your life.

* The goods from the hamper gift baskets were provided free of charge for review purposes. Please note, if you wish to provide goods for review, they are accepted on the understanding that good, bad or indifferent, this blog’s product trials section says it as it finds it.

First mince pie done, now for the cheese board

First mince pie of the year. Warm, crumbly with a splodge of clotted cream………..mmmm lovely! In a couple of weeks time, the words, “would you like a mince pie with that?” will no doubt take on a daunting one-more-mint overtone and induce an inward groan, but the very first one of the year still retains the  promise of a magical Christmas.

This first mince pie came courtesy of another of those festive traditions – a hamper full of goodies. There’s something special about getting a hamper through the post, opening it to see what’s packaged within so I’d like to say a big thank you to the people at Interflora for sending this Christmas Festivities Hamper

Well what is inside?

At first view this looks like a parcel for the sweet-toothed. Alongside The Old Chapel mince pies there’s a whole host of sweetie goodies (see the full list below) but digging a little deeper and there’s also some savoury treats – Duchy rosemary and thyme cheddar cheese nibbles and Bromley’s sticky onion chutney.

As most of my expected Christmas lunch guests are big cheese fans, I’m still making up my mind on what cheeses to offer.

While everyone expects the usual Stilton, brie and cheddar, North Yorkshire is blessed with plenty of fantastic regional cheeses and I’d like to introduce them to guests coming from across the UK, so in the name of research, today I re-visited a couple of old favourite’s which will most certainly make it onto the final cheeseboard.

The fresh, flavour of semi-hard, unpasteurised  Cotherstone which hails from a small dairy in the nearby Teesdale village of the same name is quite a complex cheese. It’s not of the strong or stinky variety, instead it has a lightness which is almost the essence of the grasslands.

The other (in the green rind) is the well-known Wensleydale from the Hawes dairy. This was the mature version – dense, deeply flavoursome and crumbly – a complete contrast to its northern cousin.

The acidity and sharpness of the sticky onion chutney made a perfect companion for the Wensley although was perhaps a little too strong for the delicate Cotherstone which is better with no relish.

A plate heaped up with the Duchy nibbles (which are just that – little bite sized nibbles which are too cheesy to be topped with cheese) provides a fragrant rosemary kick which can liven up the cheese board.

It’s these little extras which I think make receiving a hamper a pleasure, there’s quite a few things in there which I wouldn’t have thought to have put on the shopping list, but thinking up different ways to incorporate them is part of the festive excitement.

Plus I’m a bit of a sucker for wicker baskets – and now I’ll have something left over which can hold its own on picnics next year.

* The other items in the Interflora Christmas Festivities Hamper (£70) were; Twinning tea selection, two bottles of wine (a white Macebo 2008 and red Tempranillo 2006), clotted cream fudge, clotted cream biscuits, fruit cake topped with sugar crystals (Maxwell and franks), choc chunk shortbread, Foxhill strawberry jam and cranberry sauce, milk and dark selection of chocolates from Beech’s and of course – Christmas pudding (Maxwells & Franks).

(Note: The cheese, salad and Devon clotted cream pictured are my own additions. The hamper was supplied free-of-charge for review purposes).