WHAT DO YOU get the carnivore on your list who has everything?
Why, meat, of course.
Even beyond kitchen gimcracks and gadgets, the ideal gift for the friend or loved one who loves great food is an experience - something he or she can touch, taste, feel, smell. Typically, this person dines out often, making a restaurant gift-certificate one step away from ho-hum. But he appreciates a good cut of meat and may be an expert grillmaster at home, quick to sear up inch-thick Delmonicos on his 154,000 B.T.U. Kalamazoo grill.
So this season, instead of thinking Japanese electronics, give the gift of Japanese Kobe.
While the $199-a-pound imported strip steaks aren't exactly stampeding out the door of Main Line Prime, chef Derek Davis' new specialty butcher shop in Ardmore, they have topped a few gift lists.
And why not?
For the beef lover, this is the Cadillac of pampered prime - massaged, coddled and fed a special diet that includes beer wort, a grain-rich byproduct of the brewing process. On the international scale of beef marbling, which ranges from one to 12, these steaks are a 12, shot through with freeways of flavorful fat.
"Is it good to eat this every day?" said Davis, who hand-trims all of his meat. "Definitely not. But the flavor is incredible - and with a rich, acidic glass of red wine, there's nothing like it."
Davis carries only prime meat, as opposed to choice grade, which is what most supermarkets carry and what most restaurants serve. If you don't want to spring for the Kobe, traditional dry-aged beef is an option, as well as grass-fed organic beef from Natural Acres in Millersburg, Pa.
"That's the cut for the guy who runs 30 miles a week and doesn't want to eat extra fat but still loves beef," said Davis, who has long championed local producers on his restaurant menus.
These premium cuts start at around $16.99 a pound for the grass-fed, up to $28.99 a pound for dry-aged porterhouse. Main Line Prime also carries organic lamb, local cheeses and dairy and, in season, farm-picked fruit and veggies.
When giving the gift of meat, it's best to know the recipient's culinary M.O., said Ariane Daguin, co-owner of D'Artagnan, the Newark, N.J.-based purveyor of gourmet meats and specialty game.
"I'd say there are three levels," said Daguin. "First, the kind of person who loves good food but basically wants to open the box and dig right in. They might love a terrine of foie gras, or some charcuterie. The second level is someone who cooks and wants to try something new. Maybe a cassoulet kit, or an assortment of buffalo steaks for them. And finally, the person who is a true foodie. They can cook anything - pheasant, grouse, capons, goose and even whole foie gras. Anything goes."
D'Artagnan's cassoulet kit, priced at $68.93, has everything you need to make the famous French stew, complete with duck confit, demi glace, garlic sausage and haricot Tarbais beans. Easy to prepare, the dish feeds six to eight people. Add crusty bread and a salad, and the perfect winter meal is on the table.
D'Artagnan also sells U.S. pastured beef, finished with grain for added marbling, as well as grass-fed beef from Australia.
Closer to home, in the Italian Market, Sonny D'Angelo, of D'Angelo's Meats, is making sausage. But not just any sausage.
D'Angelo makes all of his sausages by hand, from Cajun boudin spiked with hot pepper to French garlic, Sicilian with marsala wine and provolone, along with casings plump with wild game, seafood, chicken and turkey.
Flavor combos are bold and creative: pork with habanero pepper, turkey spiced with lemongrass, chicken with artichokes and olives. "I've always thrown flavors around in my head," said the third-generation butcher. "I usually know in advance how it's going to taste."
Great on the grill, sautéed with onions and peppers, or seared and served in bite-sized pieces as an appetizer, his smorgasbord of sausages range from $4.98 to $8.98 a pound.
Game is a D'Angelo specialty - one look at the wall of animal skins tells the story. D'Angelo does most of the work for you, such as stuffing trussed quail with homemade breading flavored with cognac and pistachios, ready to cook, including a dusting of pink peppercorn and sea salt, for $16.98 a pound. Same price for rabbit loin stuffed with ground rabbit, chestnut flour and raspberry.
Then you have your venison steaks, duck breast, duck prosciutto - all natural meats, sourced locally and in places like New Zealand, Berkshire, England, and Texas. U.S.-bred Kobe beef is also on the menu at upward of $65 a pound for strip steaks.
"If you want a pound of flesh in a Styrofoam container, go to the supermarket," D'Angelo said. "At a butcher shop, the meat is cut for you. You build a rapport and get what you like, how you like it."
Ethnic neighborhoods are often a treasure trove of specialty food products. In the Port Richmond section, a handful of Polish butcher shops sell handmade kielbasa, kabanosa and kiszka, along with pierogis made in-house or by home cooks in the neighborhood.
One place worth a visit is Czerw's Kielbasy, a third-generation butcher shop that smokes kielbasa in old-fashioned brick ovens over seasoned fruit wood. For anybody who loves handcrafted meats, a gift basket of Polish sausages is a delicious option.
The way Ariane Daguin sees it, the gift of meat gives the recipient an experience they can really savor.
"If you tailor the gift to the sophistication of the cook, it is personalized - very meaningful," she said. "They'll associate you with the sensations and pleasure of eating.