Local gift sets with heart and soul By Marissa Maier At the beginning of this week, Sag Harbor Florist & Gift Shop owner Anastasia Casale and her staff stocked, decorated and dispatched 50 customized gift baskets. And Casale’s phone is still ringing with calls for fresh orders. In the final countdown to the holidays she will whip up dozens of new creations of carefully arranged local cheeses, gourmet sweets, scented candles, handpicked wines and the occasional miniature poinsettia — all wrapped up and adorned with orchid stems. The local florist, Casale explained, has always been expected to create a last minute fruit basket but she along with other local businesses are elevating this service to a highly curated, and often personalized, collection of presents. “We wanted to offer something different and give the baskets a new spark,” Schiavoni’s IGA Market manager Matt Schiavoni remarked of the Sag Harbor grocery store’s line of themed gift baskets that were introduced this year. The prefabricated sets start at $49.95 for “The Hostess” which features a sampling of crackers, chocolates, fruits, nuts and three types of cheeses: Jarlsberg, Brie and Havarti. On the high end of this collection is the “Large Italian.” The basket is filled with goodies from the Mediterranean country like biscotti, risotto, olive oil, San Pellegrino mineral water and the IGA’s signature Italian coffee blend. Instead of the standard basket, the $89.95 set is arranged in a wicker tray. For the gift giver who prefers a local touch, IGA offers the “Hamptons Selection” for $59.95. The basket is composed of regionally produced foods like Mich’s Maccs chocolate macaroons, Hampton’s Coffee, North Fork chips, Really Good Jam from Cutchogue and Schiavoni’s Market nuts. Java Nation Coffee Roasters farther up Main Street infuse their baskets with in-house brews and teas. The business’ $26 small sampler includes a tin of Java Nation’s premium green tea blend, fudge truffles, a sachet of Chai tea, honey and a plaster mug. The more extensive $46 version adds chocolates, gourmet hot cocoa mixes, cookies and a travel mug. For the cafe connoisseur, Java Nation offers the $32 collection, which mixes staples like a half pound of the house blend and coffee filters with treats like hot cocoa and cookies. The Schmitz family, owners and operators of Sag Harbor Liquor Store on Main Street, will work up through Christmas Eve finishing their customized baskets. From a simple two bottle wine pair to a set filled with cheese, chocolates and fruit, the Schmitz’s accommodate each customer’s vision and budget. “We do it all,” Heidi Schmitz said of the store’s creations. The average basket of two bottles of wine and a few noshes costs around $50, she estimated, but noted that her family tries to work with every price point. While the pre-made glass and bottle gift sets tend to stay on the shelves, the store’s gift basket service is wildly popular. Schmitz believes East End customers prefer the personal touch of a tailor made gift basket. “We are in the basket market,” Michael Cavaniola remarked of the South Fork. Cavaniola owns the trio of eponymous Sag Harbor cheese, wine and food shops that sit in a row along Division Street and from real estate closings to construction companies, his team organizes gift arrangements throughout the year. And Cavaniola has put his own twist on the basket concept with sets that are either enclosed in a chicken wire container or laid out on a wood cutting board, then wrapped up and decorated. Each basket is personally built though the average, said Cavaniola, costs roughly $60. Unlike national businesses that specialize in pre-made gift baskets, local arrangements offer higher quality products and more of it, Cavaniola said. Casale agreed and added that her expertise is poured into each gift basket. Her sets cost $65 and up and are custom built to meet the customers’ criteria, be it a yoga theme or gluten free foods. She orders from a collection of purveyors and adds items sold in her Sag Harbor store such as candles, decorations and a signature line of French bonbons created by noted pastry chef Jean-François Bonnet. “It’s more special to shop locally,” Casale said. “There is a level of quality in these baskets. They are baskets with some heart and soul.” Sag Harbor Florist & Gift Shop – 3 Bay Street, Sag Harbor, 725-1400. Schiavoni’s IGA Market – 48 Main Street, Sag Harbor, 725-0366. Java Nation – 78 Main Street, Sag Harbor, 725-0500. Sag Harbor Liquor Store — 52 Main Street, Sag Harbor, 725-0054. Cavaniola’s Cheese Shop — 89 Division Street, Sag Harbor, 725-0095.