Richard McComb selects some of the best regional produce available for the Christmas table.
It should be one of the most inspiring times of the year for food lovers.
Christmas offers the perfect excuse to splash out after a year of belt-tightening. If you can't justify spending a few extra pounds on a bird for the oven or a bottle for the table now, when can you?
The Birmingham area has a small - some would say far too small - number of good independent food shops, but for many shoppers the default location for a fridge and store cupboard fill up is the supermarket, where the shelves typically groan under the weight of mass produced, bland festive food.
Welcome to the world of plastic poultry and cloying mince pies. It can be a dispiriting experience shopping for seasonal roasting joints, traditional pies, desserts, sweet treats and celebration drinks.
But fear not - the Birmingham Post can help you recreate the flavour-filled seasonal spreads of Christmases past. In conjunction with Heart of England Fine Foods (HEFF), the regional food marketing organisation, we have drawn up a comprehensive listing for top local producers.
These small, artisan producers are part of a resurgent cottage industry championing local food. Many can deliver straight to your doorstep. There are chocolatiers, rare breed meat farmers, brewers and cheese-makers.
Many products are available from the Local Food Store at the Shropshire Food Enterprise Centre in Shrewsbury, where HEFF has two late-night shopping evenings tonight and on December 13.
For those who like convenience, local food and drink is just a click away by visiting the HEFF online shop at www.heff.co.uk/shop.
Not all of the producers listed here are members of HEFF and the guide does not purport to include every good local baker, butcher or cake-maker in the Midlands. You may well have one just down the road.
• Part Two of Richard McComb's guide to regional Christmas produce can be found here.
* Coco Meli Artisan Bakers
Unit 53, Britannia Way, Britannia Enterprise Park, Lichfield, www.cocomelibakery.co.uk
Lovingly crafted cakes and sweet treats including a rich panforte (whole nuts, figs and spices in an Italian soft set of honey) and a chocolate, orange and Cointreau cake, both for £20. A Chocolate Brownie Christmas Tower is ideal for parties - 20 Belgian chocolate brownies in a winter wonderland (s25).
* Cotswold Handmade Meringues
Terretts Mill, Newmarket Road, Nailsworth, Gloucs, 01453 836611, www.meringues.co.uk
Range of handmade meringues. Perfect for Christmas desserts and buffets.
* Fatherson Bakery
Unit 16 Arden Forest Industrial Estate, Alcester, Warwickshire, 01789 766779, www.fathersonbakery.com
Fatherson Bakery is a family-run company, passionate about producing quality handmade cakes, tray bakes and fruit pies.
* Frank's Luxury Biscuits
Unit 12a Holmer Trading Estate, Hereford 01432 376729, www.franksluxurybiscuits.co.uk
Family-run bakery based in Herefordshire producing a range of handmade biscuits and cakes. Delicious iced and fruit topped Christmas cakes. Try the mini Christmas cake as a stocking filler or for place settings.
* Image on Food Ltd
7 Burnside Business Park, Burnside Road, Market Drayton, Shropshire, 08450 951270, www.imageonfood.co.uk
Image on Food are producers of gourmet decorated gingerbreads and cookies. The festive range includes Noel the gingerbread man.
* My Cottage Kitchen
Curlew Cottage, Taggs Gutter, Plealey, Shrewsbury, Shropshire, 01743 860306, www.mycottagekitchen.co.uk
Award-winning traditional handmade Aga-baked fruitcakes, made in the kitchen of Ursula Evans who has turned her passion for home baking into a successful business. Perfect for Christmas.
* Sunrise Bakery
Woodlands Street, Smethwick, 0121 565 1647, www.sunrisebakery.co.uk
Sunrise Bakery is the leading producer and wholesaler of Caribbean baked products. Try the Paradise Estates Caribbean rum cake, which is a moist fruitcake infused with Jamaican rum as an alternative to a traditional Christmas cake.
* The Cracking Good Food Company
Birmingham, 07826 142624, www.crackinggoodfood.com
The Cracotti range of savoury crackers are double-baked like biscotti and then delicately cut to create the ultimate savoury slices. Ideal for your Christmas cheeseboard.
* The Little Round Cake Company
The Round Bakery, Pensfold Shopping Centre, Gains Park, Shrewsbury, 01743 242277, www.thelittleroundcakecompany.co.uk
Handmade and beautifully designed bakery products including Swiss meringues (merangz), great for a lighter dessert at your festive table.
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