This season, Santa's shopping locally
Southern California is loaded with home-grown possibilities, such as Littlejohn's English toffee and Santa Barbara's pistachios.
LOCAL FARE: Chocolates by L.A.-based Valerie Confections. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)
So this Christmas, why not keep your gift-buying close to home? Concentrate on shopping locally and you might find parts of the area you've never seen before and even meet the producers face to face.
And if all of that just seems like too much, almost all of them are also available over the Internet.
-- Russ Parsons
This is a terrific limoncello in the spirit of those enjoyed along the Amalfi Coast, but this one is made right here in Southern California from lemons grown in Ventura County. The lemon peel is first stripped away by hand, steeped in grain alcohol in glass urns, and then when the lemon has given up its all, the resulting liqueur is dosed with sugar. But not too much. That's what sets this aromatic limoncello apart for me. Keep a bottle in the freezer and serve very chilly, after dinner, the better to appreciate its syrupy texture and sunny lemon taste.
Ventura Limoncello Co., $24.99 for 750 milliliters, $14.99 for 375 milliliters. Available at fine wine retailers in Southern California. For a list of retailers, see www.venturalimoncello.com.
-- S. Irene Virbila
This cheese is a no-brainer -- a super-aged Gouda made by the Wesselink family (and 500 Holsteins) at its Winchester dairy. The big yellow rounds of the family's Dutch-style boere kaas, or farmstead cheese, are aged for more than a year, and what results is an assertively flavorful, sharp hard cheese. As it ages, it becomes dotted with tiny, crunchy crystalline granules that are like flavor explosions in your mouth.
Winchester super-aged Gouda, $16.95 per pound. (951) 926-4239. Available at Southern California farmers markets and at www.winchestercheese.com.
-- Betty Hallock
Littlejohn's Candies might not yet have the cachet of some of the bigger names -- they're still operating out of the same little stand at the center of the Farmers Market at 3rd and Fairfax that they have been at since 1946. But I'll stack their English toffee up against any I've tasted. Candyman Michael Graves still makes it by hand the same way Mary Littlejohn did when she started the business in the 1920s. The toffee is crunchy and buttery, the toasted almonds are rich and flavorful and the chocolate is, as the English would say, "no better than it should be" (meaning it's milk, not dark, chocolate, which makes a nicer complement to the other ingredients, rather than insisting on being the star of the show).
Littlejohn's English toffee, 1-pound box for $19.95. 6333 W. 3rd St., Los Angeles, (323) 936-5379, www.littlejohnscandies.com. Also at the Torrance and Palos Verdes farmers markets.
-- Russ Parsons
Giving coffee for the holidays is not only fun, but it's also practical: Never underestimate the value of a good jolt of caffeine. George Laguerre's coffee -- mellow and rich, with caramel notes that go really well with milk and a bit of sugar -- is just the thing for a sleep-deprived morning of gift-unwrapping.
Coffee from TiGeorges' Chicken, 1-pound for $16, 309 N. Glendale Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 353-9994, www.tigeorgeschicken.com.
-- Amy Scattergood
I'm a big fan of Valerie Confections' handmade hard toffees, especially the almond version finished off with fleur de sel and dipped in bittersweet chocolate. But co-founder Valerie Gordon is also obsessed with nougat. She experimented for months before coming up with the recipe for her Holiday Nougat. Made with organic eggs, clover honey, organic caramel almonds, French-style butter and June Taylor candied blood orange peel, the dreamy celebratory nougat is hand-dipped in Valrhona chocolate and crowned with flakes of 23-karat edible gold leaf.
Valerie Confections, 16-piece box of Holiday Nougat, $40. Available only through January. After that, she switches to a lemon and hazelnut version. 3360 W. 1st St., Los Angeles, (213) 739-8149, www.valerieconfections.com.
-- S. Irene Virbila