Cruise-style Holidays at Home

| Tuesday, 25 Dec. 2012

Real caviar from sturgeon is rare since the ban from Russia

Did saying "bon voyage" to countless friends embarked on sunny Christmas sails get you down? Or, at least, evoke cruise envy? I adore holiday cruises - dazzling decorations, fabulous food, the joy of ringing in the New Year at sea. But even though this cruise junkie is home for the holidays, I don't let the lack of ocean air get me down. I've learned to celebrate six-star cruise style at home. Here are my top five must-have holiday goodies served onboard many luxury sails through the festive two-week Christmas/New Year cruise. With these special treats in-hand, download Bobby Vinton's "Beyond the Sea" and have a grand landlocked time. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

BLACK RIVER CAVIAR

Complimentary caviar is a Seabourn cruise signature. Onboard the luxury company's vessels, guests are privy to caviar and bubbly whenever they want, wherever they want. You'll spot passengers nibbling caviar in the cocktail lounge, on deck and even in the whirlpool. Seabourn Cruise Line serves Black River Caviar, farm-raised Ossetra, the most sought-after variety of caviar today.

Black River Caviar rivals the best wild sturgeon roe. (Caviar from wild sturgeon is banned from import, due to habitat destruction, overfishing and pollution.) The company achieves this impressive goal through innovative sustainable farming methods, creating a win-win for consumers and our planet.

The sturgeon is raised in Uruguay, in an environment that mimics the fish's natural environment. They eat an all-natural feed made from organics typical to their traditional diet. And they never receive antibiotics.

The company uses the Iranian method of rinsing caviar with pure water several times, and then it's mixed with high-quality mined salt. Of course, these facts mean little to caviar-lovers unless the roe tastes great.

Black River Caviar is strikingly fresh-tasting, and sparkles like tiny chocolate diamonds in hues from light-brown to jet-black. It tastes very clean and faintly nutty, with underlying nuances of wild roe. The "pop" - the burst of roe in the mouth - is perfect. The texture is very creamy; think triple-cream Brie. The finish (wine terminology, the flavor lingering at the end) is long, lacking any off-notes.

No surprise that ultra-posh Seabourn Cruise Line has made Black River Caviar its trademark treat. And now it can be yours, on terra firma. (blackrivercaviar.com)

POMMERY "BRUT ROYAL" CHAMPAGNE

Sure, there are way fancier - and pricier - bottles of bubbly than Pommery. But I like this champagne as it's so reasonably priced (I've spotted it for $35), which leaves me way more money to splurge on caviar, chocolate and great wine.

This champagne blends some 40 different crus from the Champagne region. It's made with three grape varieties: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. It's aged about three years to develop its full aroma.

Think peach, pear, honey and spice flavors like ginger. Its aroma includes pear skin, yellow plum and citrus zest. It tastes creamy, on the soft side, with some crispness. The color is a lovely yellow-gold and the champagne foams nicely.

This Pommery champagne is on the light side, making it a terrific aperitif. Its elegance and price tag make it a great value with zero sense of deprivation. Sold nationwide in fine liquor stores and markets. (pommery.fr)

2009 HALL "KATHRYN HALL" CABERNET SAUVIGNON

This is the wine to serve for a New Year's Eve celebratory dinner. The signature Cabernet Sauvignon in the distinguished HALL portfolio, it's the sort of wine found on reserve lists on the most posh ships. In other words, it's special.

HALL Wines, based in Napa Valley, California, is deemed one of the finest winemakers in the region. Kathryn Hall and her husband Craig Hall are more than winegrowers, they are visionaries. They're committed to cutting-edge vineyard technology to yield sublime grapes. But they are also California's first winery to receive the prestigious Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold Certification by the U.S. Green Building Council. HALL Wines is also a recipient of Organic Farming Certification from The California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF), one of our country's oldest and largest organic certification and trade associations.

The "Kathryn Hall" Cabernet Sauvignon flagship cuvee is produced in true artisan style. It's made of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot and 1% Malbec and barrel-aged 20 months in 70% New French Oak. Wine Spectator rated it an impressive 93 points.

Okay, for those of us who are not wine geeks, what exactly does all that mean and why should I sip this wine on New Year's Eve?

Because it tastes exquisite. Such complexity, unimaginable nuance. You will taste dark chocolate, baking spices, flowers, coffee, plums, cherries and even - wild sage. Of course, you will taste wine. Wonderful wine, so luscious and silky, it will slide down your throat like aged, pricey single-malt scotch. There is not one harsh edge. The aroma alone is intoxicating.

This is a wine to savor, not drink. Enjoy this bottle and suddenly home for the holidays takes on a bright new ring. (hallwines.com)

HAND-CARVED CINCO JOTAS IBERICO HAM

I can't imagine New Year's Eve without a slice of this ham on-hand. 100% Pure Breed Iberico de Bellota Ham is sold by Cinco Jotas, a stellar Spanish company that has been producing ham since 1879. It's similar to caviar in luxury-status quality.

Cinco Jotas ham is served and sold at the finest places in the world. The Savoy in London, for instance.

The new hand-sliced ham is sold, already carved by experts from Jabugo, Spain, in paper-thin slices in one-and-one-half and three-ounce packages. It's meant to be eaten unadorned as it melts on your tongue and induces near-indescribable bliss.

This ham is made from a once-endangered breed of pigs, Pata Negra. The animals spend almost their entire lives roaming (two acres per animal) and eating a natural diet of acorns from three varieties of acorn-producing oak trees.

This ham is actually somewhat healthy. It has high levels of Omega 3 and oleic acid (the same fat found in olive oil). It's also said that due to the acorn diet, the ham contains more antioxidants than others.

To fully enjoy, it must be eaten this way: Serve with bread to clean the palate. Do not mix with other food. Nibble a little ham, sip some sherry. To fully enjoy, leave the ham on the tongue for five-to-10 seconds before chewing. (cincojotas.com)

VALRHONA CHOCOLATE

On six-star cruise ships, Valrhona chocolate is the star ingredient of countless lavish desserts. No surprise, as this luxe chocolate is one of the world's finest - if not the finest. It's served on several top-rated lines, including Crystal Cruises' Symphony and Serenity. So if you're not sailing on Crystal this holiday season, you can still swoon over Valrhona chocolate at home. And you don't have to lift a finger to bake a thing.

This French chocolate is sold in many deluxe supermarkets and online. Like the HALL wine, ham and caviar I've mentioned, Valrhona is meant to be consumed slowly, to be savored. Its flavor is so intense, a little goes a long way. (Which is also helpful to the waistline.)

I like the Chocolate Pearls Collection, diminutive rounds of utmost elegance and unparalleled taste. The newest flavor is the Caramélia Crunch Pearls, shortbread cookie bits coated with milk chocolate, possessing a distinct caramel flavor. It's savory, sweet, crunchy, smooth - all at once. Eat as is or spoon over ice cream for a decadent dessert. (valrhona.com/us)

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