I just found an excuse to order yet more goodies from Zingerman’s, a gourmet deli/bakery/creamery/restaurant/food store with an excellent mail-order arm. (Namely, I got a catalogue in the mail from them announcing a big sale on some of their best-selling supplies, and combined with a coupon code I had laying about it meant some really great deals.)
Thing is, there are dozens of companies on the internet selling “gourmet” food, not to mention aisles upon aisles of the stuff sold everywhere from Hallmark to Marshall’s to church fundraisers to your local supermarket to a nearby wine merchant. There’s a lot of crap out there packaged up to look pretty, and it has taken me many years to learn to assess what’s good quality and what’s dreck.
Vinegars with fruit flavors are not so good, while vinegars made using an actual fruit are usually decent, for example. I was a total whore for jams before I started making my own, but most of the jams in pretty jars are made indifferently–there aren’t a lot of companies like Tiptree out there doing it the old-fashioned way. (Check out their ginger preserve for a treat that will blow your socks off.) And I have no use for cake, bread and soup mixes, being a big believer in using top-quality ingredients to make those foods using old-school methods at home.
Anyway, Zingerman’s is definitely a cut above the rest, but you pay a pretty penny for the superlative quality. I also order coffee from Community Coffee (I love the New Orleans Blend, having fallen in love with coffee and chicory while in New Orleans several years ago) once a year or so. I drool over the Dartagnan site, though I don’t have the budget for foie gras or wild boar tenderloin as often as I’d like. And Butcher and Packer has ingredients for making your own charcuterie at home–a skill I’m fairly new to, but interested in exploring further.
I enjoy shopping for food and visit many shops around DC and while traveling to buy ingredients to bring home–everything from Halal butchers to the big Asian supermarkets with full aisles of Pocky snaks to little Kosher markets and gourmet cheese shops. I’ve never found much worth buying at a Smithfield Ham or Virginia Peanut store (on my mind due to a recent visit to Williamsburg, VA), but places less geared to the tourist are more likely to unearth some unusual and delicious gems.
Who gets your mail-order business?