There are two things you should know about me – one is that I don't celebrate Christmas and the other is that I hate Christmas.
So to celebrate it 16 times in one month might seen extreme to many, but considering I had never celebrated it before, I was clearly making up for lost time. To clarify, I don't celebrate it because of religious reasons and I hate it because having never celebrated it, the thought of listening to Mariah Carey on loop for 24 hours sends me into some kind of fever-dream induced shakes.
And how exactly did I “celebrate” Christmas so many times in just one month – well, I put a call out into the wild world of social media demanding that people send me the weirdest food advent calendars, and I was not disappointed by the results. From a Reese's Peanut Butter wonderful wheel-powered thing to more cheese than the average person can handle, I tried, tasted, and then analysed the best and worst of them, and learned several things along the way.
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I want to start with cheese, which is probably the only right way to start any day to be fair. Illchester makes some cracking cheeses, and the good folk at Amazon sent me three – yes, three – lots of the Illchester Cheese Advent Calendar, featuring 24 individually wrapped cheeses, with each door leading to a different tasty treat.
From vintage cheeses to a stunning onion-filled cheese, this was my joint favourite of the lot, and I'm still going through the little blocks weeks later. Little tip, though, if you're getting this for someone – which is currently the number one ranked cheese gift on Amazon, and on sale for £25.99 – put it in the fridge. It needs to stay cold, otherwise it will sweat, and sweaty cheese isn't great for anyone.
Liquorice is probably the most divisive food on the planet, and I have long hated the stuff, but what I realised after trying the stunningly-boxed Lakrids by Bulow Christmas Calendar is that I've been trying the wrong stuff. The cheap excuses for liquorice you can find in every supermarket pale in comparison to the super subtle, yet beautiful balls that come out of this advent calendar.
The flavours are also very unique, with butter cookie and crispy raspberry my personal favourites. Priced at around £50, this Danish tradition has changed by view on the stuff, and the company has seemingly taken note of the controversial nature of its own product by starting a #ShareItWithAHater campaign in 2021 – please, share it with me if you don't like it.
Chocolate is a Christmas staple everywhere, apparently, but the vast majority of it appears to be dodgy-looking Santa shapes or badly-made reindeer products. So I was pleasantly surprised by the next few advent calendars, many of which do exactly what they say on the tin.
The stand out one here was the Cocoba's Hot Chocolate Advent calendar, hailing from Kent. It's HUGE and has a mix of chocolate bombs and hot chocolate stirrers in it.
It's pricey at £59.95, but it really is worth it considering how much stuff you get in it. Every night leading up to Christmas can be spent sitting on the couch watching a crackling fire – probably on a smart TV – sipping from a proper quality hot chocolate.
Tony's Chocolonely's Countdown Calendar is filled with loads of different flavours from the relatively new brand which has taken the UK chocolate market by storm. You won't be disappointed by this one, regardless of which day you crack open.
For the vegans among you, NOMO is probably the best mainstream vegan chocolate brand around, and its Blue Santa (stop sniggering, you) calendar is a good choice for those avoiding actual milk. There's a slight lack of creativity here, however, as each window has the same thing in – maybe pick some different flavours next year, NOMO?
My personal favourite of all the chocolate ones has to be the Reese's Peanut Butter Advent Calendar wheel. This is great for kids, and is very interactive. The wheel mechanism inside makes it work like a slot machine game, and will leave entire family fighting over who gets the next spin – especially as its the pretzel-filled cups.
Joe and Seph's massive popcorn offering – with both vegan and non-vegan varieties – could also fall under the “family fight” category, as the massive selection of popcorn bags will cause arguments. But it's worth it, because this brand is amazing, and all their flavours are brilliant.
Christmas morning needs a good cuppa, apparently – as I said, never celebrated it but I assume this is how it works. Bird & Blend has you covered, with two to chose from, either a normal tea version or a match tea on.
The choices between the two are endless, with two bags per door in the normal tea one, while the match version gives you a small tin in each window which contains two portions. Ever wanted to try Mince Pie Match? Well, now you can.
The match box is priced at around £52, but worth £80, while the normal tea version is £38 – just a slight warning, however, if you don't like overly-flowery teas, maybe avoid the standard one.
And last but by no means list on this festive feast is a stunning offering from Bonne Maman. Their offering, priced at £28 with a £5 delivery charge if bought from them, contains 17 mini jars of jams and spreads, plus six herbal teas.
You know with this brand you're getting quality, and it did not disappoint – just brush up on your French, however, as the jars do not have English on them! So, summing up, what did I learn?
I might start to like Christmas a bit more if I was to base it purely on food and drink . . . not Mariah Carey.
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