The best Champagne to buy this Christmas - and it'll suit most budgets
Overwhelmed by the range of products on offer in the shops? Read on - our expert food writer Katy McGuinness has done the hard work for you and rounded up the best of the festive fare on offer
For most families, the next few weeks will be the busiest shopping period of the year, with preparations underway for the annual festive feast. With so much choice out there, it can be really hard to know what the best food and drink options are. So taking price and quality into consideration, I've rounded up my festive favourites, in the hope of making your life that bit easier in the weeks ahead. Here they are:
O'Brien's exclusive Granzamy Grower Champagne
€24.95 (reduced from €34.95)
This champagne comes from a family winery that grows its own grapes and makes its own wine. As the winery doesn't have the branding costs associated with the grand marque houses, the champagne is great value. Made from pinot noir and pinot meunier, it has a fruity aroma with a hint of toasted brioche - perfect with canapes as well as shellfish or smoked salmon starters.
Other good supermarket options are Lidl's Comte de Senneval Brut (€20), Tesco Finest's Premier Cru Champagne (€35), M&S Champagne Delacourt Brut (€29.30) and Aldi's Veuve Monsigny (€19.99).
The Louis D'Or Champagne from Mitchell & Sons at Avoca is another lovely champagne, priced at €36.95. My current favourite - if you're asking - is Henriot Brut Souverain NV, which happens to be the new house champagne at The Merrion and is reduced from €60 to €50 at Searsons. It's a beautiful gold colour, with bubbles that are persistent, fine and regular.
Best smoked salmon
Aldi Specially Selected Exquisite Wild Irish Smoked Salmon, 100g
This wild Irish salmon is caught with pots and traps in Mayo and smoked over a blend of beech and oak in Killala.
Much of what appears to be Irish smoked salmon in our supermarkets originates elsewhere, so it's a good idea to read labels carefully when buying smoked salmon.
The organic Irish smoked salmon sold under the Dunnes Stores' Simply Better brand is produced by the Burren Smokehouse in Clare and is another excellent product.
If you really want to push the boat out, the wild smoked salmon from Frank Hederman's smokehouse in Belvelly, Co Cork, is the best there is.
You'll find it in the English Market in Cork and online at frankhederman.com. From €72 for a 500g side.
Hederman's organically farmed Irish smoked salmon is also excellent and costs €84 for a 1kg side.
Best alternative starter
M&S Hand-finished Coquilles St Jaques, 300g
Serves 2, €8.80
If smoked salmon is not to your liking, these attractive scallop shells filled with scallops in a creamy white sauce with mashed potato and a cheddar cheese crumb could be a good alternative.
Avoca's Duck Liver Pate with Armagnac and Prunes (260g, €7.95) is another option. The two slices in the packet would be enough to feed four ahead of the big feast.
Dunnes Stores Simply Better Butter-basted Bronze Turkey Breast Joint, 1.2kg
Most of us will buy our turkey from our local butcher, but the supermarkets have upped their game in recent years and many of them, including Aldi, will offer Irish free-range and organic birds (their prices weren't confirmed at the time of going to press). Bronze birds generally have more flavour. Mine has come from McNally's Family Farm in North County Dublin for the past few years; I can recommend them highly. If a whole bird is too big, the turkey breast joint from Dunnes' Simply Better range is a good, easy-carve option. It serves 6-8 and comes with chestnut, port and orange stuffing. The turkey is not free range, but Dunnes stand over the wellbeing and welfare of the birds, which come from Hogan's Farm in Westmeath.
James Whelan Heritage Cure Ham
Available at selected branches of Dunnes Stores and also online from jameswhelanbutchers.com, this whole ham - which holds a Great Taste 3 Star Award - serves 16 people. Cured on the bone, it has a distinctive slightly sweet flavour with a hint of smoky hickory. If you are not in the market for a whole ham, the 750g Honey & Clove Baked Irish Ham (€12.49) from Dunnes' Simply Better range, which is already cooked, is a good option for a smaller number of people.
Gubbeen (gubbeen.com) hams are wonderful, if you are happy to take on the cooking and glazing, and the cooked outdoor-reared ham that's available to order from Ian Marconi at Jack Rabbit (jackrabbit.ie) is outstanding. Simmered in spiced Christmas liquor, glazed in honey, sugar and Dijon mustard, studded with cloves and roasted over oakwood and lumpwood charcoal, for every 15 hams sold, Jack Rabbit will donate one to St Vincent de Paul. From €65.
Dunnes Stores Simply Better 12 Month Matured Christmas Pudding, 454g
If I hadn't already made my pudding (smugface), this is the one I would be buying. Produced by Seery's Bakery in Carlow, the ingredients include vine fruits, almonds, pecans and cherries, and it's laced with French brandy, cider, and Caribbean rum.
Aldi's Specially Selected Vintage Christmas Pudding (900g, €13.99) is another winner, its fruit soaked in Pedro Ximinez sherry and XO brandy, and the pudding topped with candied sour cherries. Avoca's 454g pudding is €12.95, and Tesco Finest's just €5.25.Claire Nash's handmade plum puddings are legendary. You'll find them in Nash 19 in Cork and in Terroirs in Donnybrook. Using her grandmother's recipe, she soaks whole cherries in Hennessy Brandy to give the pudding depth and flavour. The puddings contain no butter, lard or fat. A 1.35kg pudding costs €39.95 at terroirs.ie.
Best alternative pudding
Dunnes Stores Simply Better Irish Handmade Belgian Chocolate Yule Log, 640g
Not everyone likes Christmas pudding, and this hand-made log filled with praline and Morello cherries is rather delicious. It's made in Wicklow with Irish butter and free-range eggs. Avoca has a very cute Sparkling Chocolate Bombe (€14.95) that looks like a Christmas pudding but is in fact a chocolate biscuit cake, M&S has a Chocolate Yule Log (€7.50) that children will like and Tesco Finest's Salted Caramel Bombe (€3) for two is another cheap and cheerful option.
Best Irish cheeseboard
Dunnes Stores Simply Better Irish Cheeseboard Selection, 600g
The selection from Simply Better has something for everyone, as it features Oakwood Smoked Knockanore, Vintage Irish Cheddar, Crozier Blue and Ripe Cooleeney, three of which are popular farmhouse cheeses.
Aldi's Specially Selected Irish cheeseboard (€17.99) includes Tipperary Camembert, Tipperary Brie with Chilli and Pepper, Gortnamona, Vintage Irish Cheddar, Wicklow Gold Beechwood Smoked Cheese and Tipperary Blue, along with crackers and a sweet tomato chutney. All the supermarkets - bar M&S which doesn't have many - stock a good range of Irish cheeses, and there's a good offer at Tesco, with three cheeses for €10. Options include Mature Cashel Blue, Vintage North Cork Cheddar and mature Cooleeney.
Avoca has an excellent cheese selection and propose Cratloe Hills Organic Sheep's Cheese, Mossfield Mature Organic Cheddar and Coolea Mature for an Irish cheese board.
I spotted a hamper of Sheridan's cheese selections in Dunnes Stores in Rathmines at the weekend for €20, but they contained a mix of Irish and non-Irish cheeses. They may do an Irish-only version for Christmas.
Best mince pies
Avoca mince pies, 330g (6 pies)
Avoca's mince pies taste delicious and look home-made, but are undoubtedly pricey.
You'll find less expensive all-butter alternatives (don't think of buying mince pies that are not all butter, they aren't nearly as nice) in the Dunnes' Simply Better range (€4.99 or two packets for €7), Tesco Finest (€2.75 or two packets for €4.50), M&S (€3) and Aldi (the topped mince pie selection is €2.79).
If you happen to be visiting the Christmas Flea in Point Village this weekend or next, do try some of Sceal Bakery's gorgeous mince pies, served hot with their sea salt brandy butter. They are divine.