PICTURED: Char Man Brand Fiyaberry Hot Sauce, with a touch of strawberry, can make a tongue-tingling addition to your favorite burger, mac n cheese . . . or both!

by Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer

We all have to eat . . . which is just one reason why edible presents are so perfect for the holidays. Who doesn’t love getting a quality box of chocolates, a nice bottle of wine or a home-baked goodie? Gift certificates to a favorite restaurant, bakery or coffee shop is an effortless option that will please foodies of all stripes on your list — and there’s no lack of those in Ventura County! But if you were hoping for something a little more creative, consider these local shops and products to indulge your favorite gourmets.

Char Man Brand Hot Sauce
876 S. Rice Road, Ojai
charmanbrand@gmail.com
www.instagram.com/charmanbrand
www.charmanbrand.com 

Hot heads will love Ventura County’s own Char Man Brand (pictured above), whose spicy concoctions rely on quality ingredients and an expert’s touch to create hot sauces that are more than simply tongue-scorching condiments. From the ever-popular original (with habaneros and gueros) to the fresh, tangy Verde (probably the mildest of the bunch) to the tropical and fruity Caribbean, the brand has something for everyone, and all six varieties offer a beautiful balance of heat and flavor. Bonus: The bottles are sized just right for stocking stuffers. 

Find Char Man Brand at Rains of Ojai, Santa Cruz Market in Ventura, select local grocery stores and farmers markets, or order online from the website. Five-ounce bottles start at $8.

McConnell’s Pint of the Month Club
805-963-8813
mcconnells.com

McConnell’s Fine Ice Cream holiday flavors.

Everyone in these parts knows that McConnell’s Fine Ice Cream makes some of the best frozen desserts in the world, readily available in local scoop shops and the freezer section of many area grocery stores. Thanks to its Pint of the Month Club, that creamy deliciousness is available to anyone in the United States! Arrange for your favorite ice cream fan to get three pints of pure, delicious McConnell’s ice cream delivered right to their doorstep every month. Each pint will be a different flavor, and often will include new, limited edition, seasonal or members-only flavors. Deliveries ship via FedEx and and recipients will get an email so they know when to expect it. And of course, the ice cream is properly packed to ensure it’s frozen upon arrival. 

Subscriptions start at three months for $144. 

Paradise Pantry Wine Club
222 E. Main St., Ventura
805-641-9440
www.paradisepantry.com

A wine flight from Paradise Pantry.

Paradise Pantry specializes in hand-crafted wines from top winemakers and small wineries. Many of these wines would be hard to find elsewhere; some are available in exceedingly small batches. So every bottle offered in the wine club is of exceptional quality and very special — making it the perfect gift for that oenophile who has everything, hard-to-shop-for friends and wine lovers of all kinds. There are lots of options and price points, and you can customize based on style and region, too. Local wine club members enjoy some nice perks as well. The website makes it easy to customize your wine club gift, but if you still want something a little different — give ‘em a call. (And of course, there are some “wrapped and ready” wine and gourmet food gifts available at the shop, too.)

Wine club memberships start at $44 for two bottles per month: www.paradisepantry.com/wine-club-order-gift.

SpiceTopia Cooking Classes
576 E. Main St., Ventura
805-628-3267
www.spice-topia.com

SpiceTopia Cookie Decorating Class.

Even if you’re an avid cook, a little expert guidance never hurt. SpiceTopia offers moderately priced classes in everything from making your own vanilla extract to decorating cookies to composing a healthy and beautiful salad. Class sizes are kept small deliberately, so all students get the attention they deserve. There’s also a Virtual Tea Tasting that you can customize for a group of family, friends, co-workers, etc. 

Classes start at $45 per person and can be purchased online.

Ventura Food Tours
805-295-8687 (TOUR)
www.venturafoodtours.com/
www.sbtastingtours.com/

Tasting chocolates in Ojai with Ventura Food Tours.

Gift cards to favorite restaurants are a treat indeed. But if you want to offer something a little different, why not consider a food experience? Ventura Food Tours offers fun, intimate walking and tasting explorations of local dining destinations, where participants get to sample yummy treats from local eateries. All tours include some local history, culinary education and a peek behind the scenes of fabulous bakeries, cafes, cheese shops, wine bars and more. A delicious way to discover hidden gems, or experience an old favorite in a new way. And no wrapping paper, batteries or assembly required!

Tours of Downtown Ventura, Ojai and Santa Barbara are available; tickets start at $89 per person. Through Dec. 10, gift cards are available at 20% off with the code HOHOHO21. Purchase gift certificates at www.venturafoodtours.com/gift-certificates and www.sbtastingtours.com/gift-certificates.