A little too hands-on? For most foodies, the classics can still enchant. Consider a CHEESE SAMPLER from Formaggio Kitchen (244 Huron Avenue, Cambridge, 617.354.4750), featuring the pick of the day of British, blue, or a dozen other varieties ($65.95 for about two pounds). Of course, an ounce or two of CAVIAR will surely be welcomed as the economy tanks. The Iranian version is a tad difficult to find, since our liberal community frowns on the overfishing of Caspian Sea sturgeon, as well as the accompanying outrageous prices. But the Gourmet Boutique (Westin Copley Hotel, 10 Huntington Avenue, Boston, 617.266.2906) has farmed white sturgeon from California ($79.99/ounce), Russian sturgeon ($99.99/ounce), and delicate wild hackleback ($24.99/ounce) on hand, plus nifty little MOTHER-OF-PEARL SERVING SPOONS ($24) so that your sterling silver won't mar the delightful sea burst of those little bubbles. (Stainless or, heck, plastic works just as well, but doesn't look as nice as a gift.) Cardullo's (6 Brattle Street, Cambridge, 617.491.8888) is showcasing several domestic options, notably THE LITTLE PEARL SPOONBILL PADDLEFISH ROE ($36/ounce). For the ultimate ready-to-eat treat, add in some tiny pre-made snacks from THE LITTLE PEARL BLINI ($6.99). So much nicer than crackers.
Of course, if you're going old school, what about those controversial fatted poultry livers? Despite the recent counterrevolution, overturning laws against the gavage-richened livers, a fresh lobe of foie gras by itself might take too much preparation to be totally gift-worthy, so wrap up a nice slab (or, okay, can, if the stuff's imported) of some creamy rich paté. GOOSE MOUSSE WITH ARMAGNAC ($29.99 for 11.2 ounces) or TRADITIONAL DUCK FOIE GRAS ($40.99 for 2.6 ounces)? This is a question of taste. Do we really have to do it all for you?
Or how about a TRUFFLE? No, not the chocolate kind. The pungent roasted-ping-pong-ball-looking fungi, the Europhiles' version of durian, designed to either make you swoon or gag. For umami addicts, a whole fungi makes a nifty treat. Sure, most of us make do with truffle oil. But a real black truffle ($89.99 for 1.4 ounces at Gourmet Boutique) grated over scrambled eggs turns hot comfort food into haute comfort food. (For those times when fresh isn't available, consider the BLACK TRUFFLE CARPACCIO IN EVOO, $29.99; you get the flavored oil as lagniappe.)
Speaking of truffles, is there anyone who doesn't like chocolates? The signature CHOCOLATE MICE ($2.75 and up) at L.A. Burdick's (52-D Brattle Street, Cambridge, 617.491.4340) are always nice (we're partial to the dark chocolate orange rodents), but why not push the envelope with an EARL GREYTRUFFLE ($15/quarter pound), flavored with tea and, of course, bergamot oil? Beacon Hill Chocolates (92B Pinckney Street, Boston, 617.725.1900) may not make its own product, but the sweets they sell from both Belgian and domestic sources can still tickle the gourmand's fancy. Yes, the CARAMEL SUSHI is tempting, but wouldn't you rather give the LAVENDER BLACK PEPPER, the OCCUMARIAN with its hint of hot pepper, or the MARTINI TRUFFLE, laced with Grey Goose vodka (all $2.25/piece)? Or throw over the outdated idea of chocolate altogether and show up with a box of TURKISH DELIGHT, those delicate little jelly squares that have entranced Middle Eastern children and fans of C.S. Lewis for decades. Sevan's Bakery (599 Mt. Auburn Street, Watertown, 617.924.9843) has a half-dozen varieties (boxes $4.99 and up; $6.99/pound unboxed), never mind enough tahini, nuts, and dried fruits to create your own filling killers.