The menu: check out Joe McNamee's guide to making Christmas hampers

The Menu, Joe McNamee, dons his Santy suit once more and unveils his annual guide to shopping for the Christmas table, most of it to be sourced from the farmers’ markets, supplemented with a trip to Cork’s iconic English Market, and a few other select establishments.

This year, The Menu is opting for several of Woodside Farm ham hocks to make a delicious terrine and instead of turkey, will be serving up a pair of superb Ballycotton Free Range Chickens and a fine cut of Irish beef sourced from a local, independent craft butcher.

Any others also considering a swerve away from the traditional could well plump for some of Martin O’Leary’s splendid organic Beara lamb.

Veg, as always, will come directly from growers at the markets, particularly Derek Hannon, of Greenfield Farm, Joe Burns, of Ballycurraginny Farm, and Dave Barry, of Ballintubber Farm while the Christmas fruit and — hopefully — nuts will be from Caitriona Daunt and Willie Doherty of Organic Republic.

James Scannell’s Knockmealagulla apples are a weekly addition to The Menu’s shopping bag but he will also be adding some of the spiced apple juice and apple caramel jam to the stocking while Nutcase & Co’s yuletide offering, The Nutcracker (chestnut, brazil, hazelnut, quinoa, carrot and courgette) will have the vegetarian (also available as vegan and gluten-free) of the household beating back the ravenous carnivores.

The Menu’s cheeseboard is designed to see service far beyond Christmas day itself so he will be stocking up from Iago’s, On The Pig’s Back and also popping along to Mark Hosford at the markets for a few last-minute top-ups to his list.

Make sure the selection is chockfull of the very finest Irish cheeses for you will search long and hard to find their match abroad.

There are fine puddings and cakes aplenty to be had but if shopping for the gluten-intolerant, Bean Brownie do a lovely gluten-free Christmas cake.

The Douglas Farmer’s Market is looking increasingly continental, not least with its additional Friday evening opening hours until Christmas, and the West Cork Baking Emporium’s traditional stollen is the real deal from proprietor and native German Andreas’ own fair hands.

The Menu was greatly saddened at the passing, earlier this year, of Niall Daly, proprietor of the English Market Chocolate Shop, but with his wife Rosemary and daughter Niamh continuing on in business The Menu shall once more be visiting for the usual extensive list of superb chocolates from Ireland and abroad.

Though The Menu greatly relishes shopping for fine food and encountering the many wonderful people who retail same, he appreciates others may not have the time or inclination and may instead be in the market for a hamper or two.

Town & Country Hampers (www.townandcountryhampers.com) have some decent offerings but to really push out the boat, check out the wonderfully decadent and highly innovative Nash 19 Hampers (www.nash19.com), not least those featuring their fine in-house Christmas pud, which goes down very nicely with a glass of Daniel Emerson’s Stonewell Tawny, a fortified cider that struts like a port.

Speaking of port, another yuletide essential, The Menu trusts that you will make all your drinking and beverage purchases in any of the fine local independent emporia devoted to same, in particular, Curious Wines and Bradley’s Off Licence, for an unparalleled selection of Irish craft beers, wines and spirits, including an unsurpassable range of Irish boutique distilled gins, Blackwater Wild Hedgerow Gin being The Menu’s current winter tonic of choice.

Bradley’s also do food hampers from their superb range of local produce while Urru, in Bandon, The Roughty Food Stall, in the English Market, The Farmgate, in Midleton, Arkeen Stores, in Waterford, and Manning’s Emporium, all do fine lines in additional Christmas treats.

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