Group of friends gathering for New Year's party at home.
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What's A Good Hostess Gift That's Not Wine? Consider This Pantry Staple

Sidenote: Is anyone even drinking anymore?

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How many times have you dashed to the wine shop on the way to an event at someone’s home, absolutely stressed about the thought of arriving to a dinner party or holiday event empty handed. You can’t just show up, your guilty conscious — which, not surprisingly, sounds just like your mother — tells you. And wine has always been for myself, and many others, a usually low-stress, go-to hostess gift for lots of reasons: you can find one at nearly every price range, keep a stock of your favorite in your pantry for convenience, (and it’s cheaper if you buy by the case), and wine shops are plentiful. But as I get older, I realize that wine as a hostess gift is not the safe, stress-free option it used to be. So what’s the best hostess gift if wine is out of the picture? In my opinion, a bottle of olive oil.

I’m not talking about showing up with a jumbo-sized tin of Filippo Berio (not that I would turn my all-too-practical nose at that), but I’m talking about the kind that’s typically reserved for finishing and dressing. The price per ounce might make you weep a little inside, but generally you’re buying a small bottle that will last them exponentially longer than cooking bottle of olive oil will and it tastes nothing like the budget oils you typically cook with. The person you’re buying this for doesn’t even have to cook — they can use it simply for enhancing and complimenting finished dishes, say elevate a take-out dish, like a seared fish or mixed salad. Even a robust olive oil drizzled over the simplest of salads goes a long way.

And I don’t know about you, but more and more of my friends and acquaintances are leaning away from consuming alcohol, ranging from those who have made a commitment to that teetotaler life or are just cutting back in general. That makes giving the gift of wine even tricker — I don’t necessarily know who is or isn’t drinking these days, and what their relationship with alcohol is in general. Have you ever heard of someone feeling hungover and regretful because they had too much olive oil and blacked out? I think not.

Of course if you know your friend is a wine enthusiast, by all means, get them something meaningful to you or them. But if you’re not 100% confident in gifting a bottle of wine — maybe you don’t know if they have any more space in their wine fridge to accommodate yours, maybe you know they’re devout dry-January practicers, or maybe you’re just too damn self-conscious about picking something impressive because they’re vino snobs — a nice bottle of olive oil is safe, thoughtful, and won’t send anyone down a spiral.

If you really dive deep, it can start to feel like the world of olive oils is just as vast as that of wines, and if you taste test a few different options, the differences in flavor profiles are quite apparent. Some taste peppery, some are mild, and some are quite robust, but I think the thing to focus on here is that these olive oils are noticeably flavorful in the way that a cooking olive oil is not. Drizzle it over a dish, simple or complex, sprinkle a little salt, and let the flavors mingle. Here are some safe options.

This mid-range olive oil has been my go-to for probably over 10 years now. It’s versatile enough in flavor and price to serve as both a cooking oil and finishing oil. So if your guest is someone who likes to cook, this might become their everyday favorite. $35 might seem steep for a cooking oil, but you’re getting a full liter here.

If your host enjoys a bit of spice, I recommend the Ardor chili olive oil (flavored with cayenne and paprika) from Brightland. You’ve probably seen their beautiful bottles on the internet and in specialty food shops before — it’s hard to miss their glossy bottles an artistic labels, and their products across the board are good. My favorite from their lineup, if you’re looking for an olive oil and vinegar duo, has to be Parasol, their Chardonnay vinegar.

Someone gifted my husband and I a Kosterina olive oil cake once, and holy moly was it memorable — rich and moist in all the best ways. They use their signature EVOO in the cake, and our delivery came with a little sample of the oil to taste. You can bet I did not let a single drop of that go to waste.

Really, you don’t have to go to a gourmet food shop to grab a nice bottle of olive oil for your host — most standard grocery stores have some great options right on their shelves — just look for the winning combination of smaller bottle + higher price tag. And when it comes to hostess gifts, remember that it really is about the thought that counts. I guarantee you the host is not going to give it a second thought if you bring a generic gift (or nothing at all). It’s when you bring something surprising and outstanding that they notice and savor the gesture.