While it's great to buy specialty products from the maker in person, sometimes that's just not possible. (We don't all live near a farmers market.) So to appreciate the full scale and variety of today's artisanal offerings, you have to go online. These seven marketplaces have you covered.
1. Mouth: Most of the products on this site are made by small, independent producers in New York, but you'll also find a few unique non-New York indie food items. The selection criteria page states that ideally the products should be handmade, and if they can't scale that way (like bottled beverages, for example) they still "started out as homemade concoctions and retain the hand of the maker." New York Mouth also offers a monthly subscription service, as well as an extensive list of curated gift boxes for every particular foodie craving your loved one might want! The site is super easy to navigate, with beautiful, enticing food photos.
2. Gilt: If you don't already know about Gilt's online market, you're missing out! Gilt offers a highly curated selection of specialty foods and artisan food products, many of which had previously only been available to chefs. Each product features gorgeous photos and a backstory on the maker or supplier, so you know exactly what you're buying and why Gilt's editors chose it.
4. FoodShed: Portland-based FoodShed founder Brenda Crow says her job is to "check the chicken's papers," which she essentially does as she hunts down high-quality artisanal products from around the country. She'll "only choose a product if it tells a story — about where it's from, who makes it, and why it's so delicious that it makes me run to my kitchen to cook." Keep a look out for beautiful photos and recipes as well. Wanna buy something in your own area? You can search by region for everything from seafood and meat to cheese and pantry items.
5. Marx Foods: This gourmet food site is a little different from the others because it only sells its food products in bulk. Traditionally geared towards restaurant chefs, the products are now available to regular home cooks! You're not likely to find many small, independent producers on here, since the whole notion of "artisanal" goes a little against the bulk-buying philosophy. But if you need a few pounds of morels or a nine-pound hunk of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, this is your place.
6. Market Hall Foods: The founders of Market Hall Foods wanted to give Bay Area customers an alternative to weekly supermarket treks, so they pooled their resources and opened the only European-style marketplace in the Bay area. You're lucky if you're able to shop there in person, but if not, you can check out their online store, which features a few of their most popular products and producers, including a few specialty items from France and Italy.
7. Fooducopia: Fooducopia ("The Real People, Real Food Marketplace!") offers the usual array of small-scale artisanal products, including jams, condiments, chocolates, and the like. I find the site design and navigation a little lacking, but they do have a health-specific category search, where you can search for food items that are gluten-free, preservative-free, vegan, etc.
Do you have a favorite online resource for artisanal or specialty food products?
This post has been updated — originally posted in 2012.