Genius, it is said, comprises 1 per cent inspiration and 99 per cent perspiration. This may well be true, but at Christmas, I think, the genius of a deeply satisfying – and pleasantly indolent – festive experience lies in reversing those percentages.
In time-honoured fashion, here are The Gannet’s suggestions for top-notch food and drink with which to assure the merriment of gentlefolk. Most can be bought online and enjoyed more or less as they are, although the ham requires judicious application of a carving knife.
One avenue for the gourmet to explore is Booths: The Christmas Book, launched by the enlightened northern supermarket, which has forged a reputation for championing small British producers. It’s packed with good ideas for the season: potted shrimps from Morecambe Bay, say, that require no more than a wedge of lemon and a slice of toast to kick off the perfect Christmas lunch. For the truly sybaritic, there is King’s excellent farmed beluga caviar, with mother-of-pearl spoon (pictured); there is lobster thermidor from Forman & Field, a Scottish lobster chopped in half and topped with Mornay sauce, ready for a quick browning in the oven; and there is Mrs Kirkham’s sublime, crumbly Lancashire cheese.
One of The Gannet’s favourite indulgences at this time of year is a whole ham, and you can do no better than the traditionally cured black hams from Emmett’s of Suffolk; it has been curing its meat with molasses, brown sugar and local porter since 1820, so it should have got it right by now. And it certainly has: rich, dark, sticky and thoroughly delicious.
For an unusual version of charcuterie, try trout “speck”, a rich, smoky delicacy from the Armanini brothers in Trentino, available from Originàrio, which packages the creations of a cluster of artisanal Italian producers into smart wooden boxes. Each is more than enough for a gourmet dinner for six: other goodies include Enzo Carpino’s excellent oil made from Tonda Iblea olives in Sicily, and the rare swordfish bottarga, lighter in flavour than versions made with grey mullet or tuna, and perfect for grating over linguine.
But, given The Gannet’s habitual appetites, it might surprise you to learn that what I covet for Christmas is a briefcase – but not any old briefcase. This one is from Lalique, handmade by Salvatore Ferragamo using the finest black leather (£5,900). It contains two beautiful crystal glasses designed by wine expert James Suckling, and – this clinches the deal – two randomly chosen bottles of first-growth claret, Château Latour 2000, perhaps, or Château Margaux 2005, each of which has scored a near-perfect 98 points from Robert Parker. Now that’s what I call an overnight bag.