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HOLIDAY GUIDE '10: Gifts for foodies

Taste buds: Please the hard-to-shop-for by giving the flavors of Rochester

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BY CAITLIN SHAPIRO

Your friend may casually mention that the pumpkin-spice coffee you're drinking is her favorite, or maybe you notice that your boyfriend is always ordering the same dish at his favorite Indian restaurant because he "can't get enough of those spices." Absorb these hints like a sponge and use them to your advantage this holiday season. Finding thoughtful gifts can be tough in the consumer age, but here's one thing everyone has in common: we all have to eat and drink. And by keeping track of your loved ones' culinary likes and dislikes, you can come up with a present sure to please.

It's easy to find tasty, unusual gifts in Rochester's diverse local shops that will show off your creativity while allowing you awaken the inner-foodie in your friends and family. After all, the holidays are all about indulging, right? The list of locally made foodie gifts is far from comprehensive, but is a good place to start. Did we miss some of your favorite local foods or food shops? Tell us all about them by commenting on this article at rochestercitynewspaper.com.

Wine country: more than just wine

Many Rochesterians venture to the Finger Lakes for an impromptu weekend getaway, or casual day trip spent visiting its many wineries. But the distinguished wine country, home to many fabulous tasting sites, also has other intoxicating draws. Distilleries are popping up throughout the region, and with the varieties in signature liquors being produced, the Finger Lakes are becoming a good place to ditch the Johnny Walker or Grey Goose and deliver an unusual local gift.

Consider Finger Lakes Distilling (4676 NYS Route 414, Burdett; 607-546-5510; fingerlakesdistilling.com). This distillery, located on the east side of Seneca Lake, is known for its McKenzie bourbon whiskey and Glen Thunder corn whiskey. It also produces grappa, a grape-based brandy popular in Italy, in three varieties: Gewurtztraminer, Riesling, and Muscat. The Seneca Drums Gin, a dry gin, is like Hendricks in the way that it hits on notes of cucumbers with citrus peel, juniper, clove, and light licorice. The distillery's Vintner's Vodka has a bit of grape character, too. Other liqueurs offered include Maplejack, made from New York apples, and Cassis, made with local black currants, as well as other varieties like blueberry, raspberry, and cherry.

Hidden Marsh Distillery (part of Montezuma Winery, 2981 Auburn Road in Seneca Falls; 315-568-8190; beevodka.com) uses honey in a number of its liquors. The star of its collection, BEE Vodka, is made from regional Finger Lakes honey, and has undertones of caramel, but isn't sweet. Also available is the award-winning apple brandy and Queen's Flight honey brandy, which is aged in charred oak and has a caramel and vanilla aroma. The distillery's maple liqueur is made from New York State maple syrup.

Knapp Winery (2770 County Road 128, Romulus; 800-869-9271; knappwine.com) produces limoncello, a lemony and sweet liqueur traditionally served after meals in Italy, and offers a twist on the classic with its Limencello. Knapp's brandy delivers hints of butterscotch, vanilla, and caramel. The winery also has a selection of ports, cordials, and grappa.

Six Mile Creek Vineyards (1551 Slaterville Road, Ithaca; 607-272-9463; sixmilecreek.com) launched its "Spirits by Battistella" liquor line, including vodka, gin, grappa, and limoncello. The vodka is distilled from a finished Seyval Blanc wine, and the gin from chardonnay. The gin is also infused with Italian herbs and botanicals - a twist on the classic juniper flavor.

Spread 'em: Oils, vinegars, spreads, and sauces

Rochester is home to many culinary creations, especially when you consider the number of condiments it brings to the table. Maybe some of these locally made products can spice up a stocking. Availability differs for each product, so check the websites for retail locations.

Geulah's Spicy Tomato Spread (geulahs.com) is sweet and fresh with a kick - but not too spicy. The blend of red garlic, salt, and cumin enhance the tomato taste, while the added cayenne pepper helps boost metabolism. It's a good alternative to the typical sandwich spreads, especially when mixed with hummus.

Zweigle's Hot Dog Sauce (zweigles.com) is a good alternative to putting the famous local sausages under the tree. At least you can deliver the Rochester flavor in the form of the company's nearly as-famous sauce, which blends ketchup, relish, onions, and garlic with a hit of cayenne pepper. It's also gluten free.

For your Jewish friends, the kosher Boss Sauce (bosssauce.com) has been a Rochester legend since the 80's. It leaves any kind of meat, poultry, or veggie with a spicy sweet finish and touch of vinegar flavor.

For a savory treat, try Nunda Mustard (nundamustard.com). You'd think you were shopping for beer with the amount of obscure-flavored mustards this local company offers. Honey brew, smoky maple, and cracked peppercorn are just a few of the varieties. These unexpected flavors definitely gives the mustard a reason to leave the sandwich and morph into dipping sauces, spreads, and marinades. Great for dipping pretzels.

For something a little more upscale, check out the Cosimano e Ferrari Olive Oil Company (cfoliveoil.vpweb.com). This fairly new vendor at the Rochester Public Market sells oils and vinegars infused with different fruits or herbs, like the peach vinegar or basil-infused olive oil. They can be used in cooking, as salad dressings, or bread dips, and can enhance any foodie's pantry.

Home sweet home: chocolate and candy

Candy or chocolate is a fool-proof gift - everybody has a sweet tooth around the holidays - but a Whitman's Sampler can be a little clich├ęd. But no worries - many local candy shops around Rochester have thrown imaginative twists on even the most basic sweets.

Stever's (623 Park Ave; 473-2098; steverscandy.com) has been a Rochester classic for more than 60 years. The shop is known for its best-selling sleeves of non pareils (those thin chocolate wafers covered in tiny candy sprinkles), but for a bit of fun throw some "black coal" into stockings. And since not everyone likes or can eat chocolate, check out Stever's creamy, fruity sherbet squares, peanut brittle, or caramels.

Hedonist Artisan Chocolates (674 South Ave; 461-2815; hedonistchocolates.com) offers an unusual goat-cheese chocolate collection, but the shop's holiday sampler might make a more appropriate gift. Truffles in flavors like champagne pomegranate, egg nog, fig, ginger molasses, and orange clove come packed in five, 10, or 20 per box.

Affaire de Chocolat(1769 Penfield Road in Penfield; 387-9111) specializes in chocolates that come in a plethora of comical, classic, and personal shapes. Pick up house-made chocolates cast to look like fingers, rats, a tool kit, high heels, snowmobiles, golf clubs, or cell phones; whatever matches the personality of the person on your list. And don't forget the chocolate-covered Twinkies.

Besides the huge chocolate platters and gift baskets created by Encore Chocolates (147 Pattonwood Dr.; 266-2970; encorechocolates.com) the signature "Lotus Bowl" stands apart. The bowl - a thin chocolate shell hand rolled on location -- looks like it is made out of feathers. It comes in four sizes, and can be filled with smaller chocolates. Definitely beats out most thanks-for-cooking-Christmas-dinner gifts.

The Nut House (1520 Monroe Ave.; 244-9510; thenuthouseonline.com) is popular for its in-house roasted cashews and sweet but balanced praline pecans - perfect for a post-turkey meal, especially for non-chocolate fans. The dark chocolate cordials are a holiday favorite, and kosher too. If someone you know loves sweets and practical jokes, check out the "turkey joints," a candy that looks like something you'd pull out of your holiday bird.

Create your own

Whether it's a grilling gift basket for your man, or a jumble of spices for your friends with adventurous taste buds, putting something together for someone shows a lot of thought. Reserve your time and pack a basket tailored to the most special foodies. Niblack Foods (900 Jefferson Road; 292-0790; niblackfoods.com) is an ingredient warehouse, and possibly one of the best-kept secrets in town. Although it often sells in bulk for restaurants, the store carries a surplus of spices from all around the world, as well as a large collection of locally produced name-brand sauces.

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