Reviewed by Dotty Winters
Like many people I find the men in my life the hardest to buy for. I am forever on the look-out for good Christmas gift ideas for men, especially lower priced items (yes, the grown-ups in my house still get Christmas stockings). This year I was sent a selection of products which were selected as gifts for me, so I could try to see which would make it onto Santa’s shopping list.
First up were a selection of savoury biscuits and snacks from Stag Bakeries, a brand I hadn’t heard of before. Founded in 1885 they’ve had plenty of time to perfect their bake, and seem to have put that time to excellent use. There was a bit of a cheese-based theme to the products I received, making them perfect gifts for the cheese-loving man in your life. The Smoked Dunlop Cheese Straws would have made an ideal party snack. The flavour was excellent, and the use of the smoked cheese gave them a distinctive flavour, I can easily imagine these as part of New Year’s nibbles, if only they had a chance of lasting that long. Next up were the Stornoway Oatcakes flavoured with seaweed. As a very Scottish family, oatcakes are always part of our shop, but these were certainly something special. I am a big fan of the use of seaweed to flavour products, but the recognise that the taste can be a bit over-powering if you are not accustomed to it. These biscuits were incredibly delicately flavoured, just enough seaweed to give that incredible umami taste, without being too strong tasting. I’ll be buying these again, some for gifts, but plenty to keep! I think these would be particularly good as a gift for someone who is a bit more health conscious, or who is a real foody and loves to try new flavours. The biggest surprise of the Stag selection was the Stornoway Seaweed flavoured water biscuits. In general, I’ve never really understood the fuss about water biscuits. How could something with water in the name be so dry? These biscuits more than showed me the error of my ways. Warning: These biscuits are dangerously moreish, I’m not going to admit how long it took Mr W and I to scoff the lot, but it was measured in hours, not in days. It’s no surprise at all to me that they received at Top 50 foods commendation from the Great Taste awards. These products and their packaging had a very luxurious feel to them, making them feel very gift-worthy. For more information and stockists visit www.stagbakeries.co.uk.
Continuing the food theme were a selection of preserved foods from Opies. Part of Bennet Opies Limited, one of the oldest privately owned family businesses in the UK (founded in 1880), the Opies products are pickles and preserves which have been manufactured from the same site in Kent since 1926. The selection included three of the products which the brand is best known for, as well as a product which I hadn’t seen before. First up were the pickled walnuts, a distinctly English sort of pickle, most often served with blue cheese (but also amazing in beef stew). It had been a long time since I’d eaten a pickled walnut (in fact the closest I’ve come to the product in recent years is Len on Strictly threatening to pickle his) and I’d forgotten how good they are. My brother in law is fairly famous in our family for his pickle addiction but I’m not sure walnuts are part of his current repertoire, so I’ll certainly be making sure some of these make their way to him this Christmas. The cocktail gherkins were also excellent, they are much sweeter and more mildly flavoured than some other varieties. I can imagine these working well in a sandwich but they would also be a very welcome addition to any Christmas cheese board.
The classic Cocktail Cherries (maraschino flavoured) were also a pleasant surprise, again I don’t think I’d tried one for quite some time, but the distinctive flavour is somehow very Christmassy. If the man in your life likes to shake his own cocktails this might be a perfect gift. There are also a range of recipes which these can be used in, including my Mum’s Christmas ice-cream (which she refuses to share the recipe for). The would also be excellent baked in almost anything chocolatey. The final product from Opies were their cherries in kirsch, which I hadn’t come across before. Sweet, richly flavoured and boozy these were a huge hit. They disappeared incredibly quickly once they were opened were especially good with ice cream for a very grown up treat. The packaging had a great classic look. For more information and stockists visit www.opiesfoods.com.
We tested more crackers next, in the form of Peter’s Yard Caraway Sourdough Crisp Bread; these were really unusual. I’d expected the caraway flavour to be so strong as to mask the sour-dough flavours, but the balance was great and again these crackers worked plain as a snack, but would have also been superb with cheese. We rounded off this taste test with sweet treats in the form of Baru’s all-natural strawberry and cacao marshmallows. I’ll confess that I once made marshmallows at home, and the real-deal definitely tasted amazing compared to the ones you can buy in most shops; they also ruined my kitchen, a pan and my outfit, and now that I know you can buy ones that taste as good as the Baru’s ones, I’ll be leaving my chef’s hat in the cupboard in future.
Again, these products were well presented. I think all of the food products we tested would have worked well as part of a hamper for a foody man in your life.
The final products we test were beard oils from Power Health. These GMO-free, 100% natural oils are designed to be rubbed into a beard, where they moisturise the face, and improve the condition and manageability of a beard. We were sent two scents to try, a Warming Blend containing pepper and cypress oils, and a lighter Citron Blend with bergamot and lemon oils. My tester agreed that both smelled lovely, they both have quite a masculine scent, and weren’t so strongly scented as to be overwhelming. The oils soaked in quickly and didn’t leave the hair or skin feeling greasy. These oils would be perfect for anyone you know who is a bit more Mr Twit than Mr Tidy, or indeed anyone with a beard. In fact, perhaps I’ll leave some out for Santa as a nice change from all that whiskey.
There were some great ideas here, certainly some I’ll be buying again, and plenty of inspiration to look a bit beyond pants, socks and chocs for the men in my life.