A touch like buying a birthday present for the couple that has everything — a high-rise apartment in Manhattan, a country home, two children decked out in designer attire who just were gifted ponies for their last birthday — shopping for a cheese or wine geek can be a tricky thing. There’s, for example, the danger of gifting a cheese that would just end up in a gratin because it’s not what they’d consider cheese-plate caliber, or giving them a wine they’d only save for the end of a party (I call this “less-judgmental time 2-buck Chuck hour”), because it’s just not their thing. One wants to make sure the gift is appreciated, but how does a non-caseophile or connoisseur know if they don’t exist in the same level of geekiness as the giftee?
Here are eight gifts that are sure not to disappoint the most cheese and wine discerning. Most are reasonably-priced, and some are smaller items which can even be grouped together for bigger gifting. Bonus: they’re special or geeky enough that late shoppers who write “this is being shipped” on a holiday card will be forgiven will a smile.
Wine Metro Map
What wine person who is deep in the trenches doesn’t need a new way to think about their favorite topic? Designed by architect David Gissen, these beautiful maps re-consider and re-form wine appellations into metro map formations. Brilliant. California and France currently in stock.
A book about the country’s first celebrated grape, Norton, in Missouri and Virginia, Wild Vines is one of the few books that conquers North American wine outside of California. This well-written book is compelling in its focus, its human look at viticulture, and its prose. And yes, it’s more than nichey enough for your giftee.
Gift Certificate to their favorite wine bar or shop
If your wine geek friend is anything like mine, they’re always talking about their favorite wine place. A gift certificate might not seem personal enough, but for your wine geek friend, it is. This isn’t like giving a teenager a gift certificate to The Gap. Remember, your geek loves the chase: spending hours tasting and selecting wines is their idea of bliss. Enable them.
If their book shelves are stacked with books with as narrow focuses as Pinot Noir and East European Wines, chances are they like odd and experimental wine. Enter orange wine, “white,” lightly tannic and age-worthy wine that has an orange hue because the juice was left in contact with the skins for an elongated period of time. Intriguing, relatively new to the scene, and delightfully weird.
Winter & Autumn Cheese
There are dairy delectables that are only released or crafted in fall and winter. That’s right, they’re holiday gifts waiting to happen. Mainly inspired by the Alpine region, these cheeses are either made with summer milk (the most flavorful because of what the animals are eating) or with small batches of exceptionally rich fall and winter milk (less water content than summer), and they come out… now. Some have to be searched down, but they’re worth the effort. Rush Creek, Forsterkase, Winnimere, Comté été are some good examples.
Languiole Cheese Knives
These knives are heart-warming. They’re beautiful, expensive, and incredibly well-made, meaning that while many people would not buy them for themselves, they would add beauty to one’s cheese plate forever. I like them with red or yellow handles, but one could go with the more classic black or white too. Did I mention yet how gorgeous they are?
The Cheese Nun
Sister Noella Marcellino is a holy figure on the cheese scene, and not just in the obvious way. She’s revered for her scientific knowledge, her cheesemaking skills, her passion, and her humor. This PBS video documents her trek visiting Benedictine cheesemakers in France and looks at her daily life and studies in a Connecticut monastery.
It’s Not You, It’s Brie: Unwrapping America’s Unique Culture of Cheese
Full disclosure, this mention is more than a little self-serving; I wrote this book. But beyond being its author, I am also a card-carrying cheese geek. Detailing cheese styles, their culture and history, and the people who craft cheeses in the United States, the book looks at American dairy in a way that might be appreciated by those who already have all the classic guides. Enough said, except that my mother told me that it’s also funny.
Kirstin Jackson is a professionally trained cook, wine bar manager and cheese program director, food and wine writer, consultant, and instructor, whose fridge and head is almost entirely consumed with cheese. Her cheese blog, “It’s Not You, It’s Brie,” was launched in April 2009, and has since received accolades from Blogs.com, Foodista, and Apartment Therapy’s The Kitchen. Her first book, It's Not You, It's Brie: Unwrapping America's Unique Culture of Cheese published in 2012.