New Year's Table, American Style: All the Luxe, Fewer Bucks

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New Year's caviarOn the American holiday menu, home cooking generally reigns supreme. Whether the dish in question is grilled burgers on July 4th, turkey on Thanksgiving or Christmas' cookies, we tend to celebrate with something fresh from the kitchen. The major exception is New Year's Eve, when the order of the day is luxury, and the table is covered in expensive, imported foods from around the world.

This year, we have a few suggestions for keeping your luxurious table a little more local -- and a little more affordable in the process. After all, who doesn't want to start the new year with a few more pennies in their pocket?

New Year's Table, American Style: All the Luxe, Fewer Bucks

French sparkling wine, preferably Champagne, is considered the standard for New Year's celebrations. With even mediocre bottles running $40 and up, it's also a bit on the expensive side.

American sparkling wines offer a tasty -- and cost-effective -- alternative. There are dozens of outstanding options available for less than $40, including this Roederer Estate Brut.


Photo: Gayot.com

Spanish ham, particularly jamon Iberico de Bellota, has been widely praised as the finest smoked pork in the world. Unfortunately, it comes with a high price: jamon Iberico costs over $100 per pound, and even the comparatively reasonable jamon Serrano costs a bracing $40 per pound.

The S. Wallace Edwards company of Surrey, VA, offers a Spanish-style American ham, which it calls "Surryano." Made from Berkshire pigs, it replaces the classic acorn diet of Jamon Iberico pigs with a more American peanut-rich feed, and eschews the antibiotics and growth hormones that plague American agriculture. The price is also a nice change: Surryano ham costs as little as $23 per pound.


Photo: Virginia Traditions

Few things say luxury quite like Russian caviar. Unfortunately, the import of beluga -- one of the most popular types -- is now illegal in the U.S. As for the rest, at over $100 per ounce, this is one of those delicacies that are out of reach for most people.

American caviar, on the other hand, has come a long way in recent years. With prices starting as low as $6 per ounce, there's something for every budget -- and, according to Food & Wine, some domestic caviars, including white sturgeon, paddlefish and hackleback, are truly outstanding.

When searching for caviar accompaniments, creme fraiche is usually the best place to start. Unfortunately, the prepared stuff in stores costs a pretty penny -- it's not uncommon to pay $16 per pound or more.


Photo: igourmet.com

Making creme fraiche at home, on the other hand, couldn't be simpler. Basically, all you have to do is pour a cup of whole cream in a clean jar, add two tablespoons of buttermilk, close the jar, shake thoroughly, and let the closed jar sit on your kitchen counter shelf overnight. Voila! By the morning, you will have perfect, locally-sourced creme fraiche.

Scotland is justifiably famous for its smoked salmon. Made from Atlantic fish and smoked over whisky barrels, it has a flavor that is hard to beat. The price, on the other hand, isn't nearly as delightful -- at up to $50 per pound, the imported stuff is hard on the wallet.

American smoked salmon, on the other hand, can be a lot more reasonable. Acme lox, smoked in New York City, costs as little as $20 per pound online -- and offers a rich flavor that rivals imported brands.


Photo: Acme Smoked Fish, Facebook

For fans of Scotch, nothing else even comes close. Whether you're partial to the highlands, the lowland, the isles or the other Scottish whisky-making regions, it's hard to find a substitute.

McCarthy's Oregon Single Malt Whiskey is a smoky, peat-rich liquor that, but for the name on the bottle, is all but indistinguishable from an Islay Scotch. Winner of numerous awards, it is consistently ranked among the top 10 American whiskeys. As for the price, at $55 per bottle, it is not quite a bargain -- but it is cheaper than most similar-quality Scotches.


 

Photo: Sam Beebe, Flickr.com

Whether your tastes run to Camembert or cheddar, Roquefort or brie, chances are that your top cheese comes from somewhere overseas. This isn't all that surprising...after all, the French have been making Camembert for centuries, and the British have been eating their cheddar since before America existed.

Then again, while the phrase "American cheese" usually brings to mind the soft yellow stuff that comes in cellophane, it's worth noting that domestic cheese producers have long since found themselves a place at the table in international competition. Oregon's Tillamook cheddar, for example, won a gold medal for best medium cheddar in the 2010 World Championship Cheese Contest. Meanwhile, American blue cheeses -- notably Oregon-made Rogue Creamery Blue -- continue to win top awards at various worldwide competitions. 

Photo: Ed Kohler, Flickr.com

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Bruce Watson is a senior features writer for DailyFinance. You can reach him by e-mail at bruce.watson@teamaol.com, or follow him on Twitter at @bruce1971.
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