While it's great to buy specialty products in-person from the maker, sometimes it's just not possible. (We don't all live near a food or farmer's market.) So to appreciate the full scale and variety of today's artisanal offerings, you have to go online. These nine marketplaces have you covered:
1. New York 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 for (currently) chocolate, cookies, pickles, and jerky, 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. Best Bet: Fig Balsamic Vinegar from The Girl and the Fig ($9) and Goat Milk Caramel from Fat Toad Farms ($12).
2. Gilt Taste: If you don't already know about Gilt Taste'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. Best Bet: Mikuni's Wild Food of the Month ($139.95 - $269) and Murray's Ultimate Cheese Tasting ($70).
3. Foodzie: This online market operates on a different model than either Gilt or NY Mouth; at Foodzie small producers apply to be sellers and Foodzie approves or denies them. In order to even view the selection, you do have to sign up (name, email address, password). In recent news, Foodzie was actually just acquired by Joyus (the full transition will happen on August 1, 2012). Joyus, as Foodzie tells us, is "shopping through video" - you can see what this will look like by checking out the Foodzie's Bacon Jam video on Joyus! Best Bet: Bourbon Pantry Essentials ($37) and Early Bird Granola Trio ($27).
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, vegetables, pantry items, desserts, and main dishes. Best Bet: Chorizo Andulaz by Olympic Provisions ($10) and Hand Harvested Oregon Sea Salt by Jacobsen Salt ($10.25/bag).
5. Foodoro: Foodoro touts itself as a marketplace for "gourmet food crafted by artisan producers and farmers." The site's greatest advantage is how searchable it is - delve into the lengthy category list or go right to one of their specialty shops. ("Gluten Free," "Indian Cuisine" and "Made to Order" are all options.) Best Bet: Black Garlic Bulbs ($3.99/two-pack) and Ethiopian Berebere Spice Blend from Ajika ($6.75).
6. Marx Foods: This gourmet food site is a little different than 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 a few pounds of morels or a 9-pound hunk of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, this is your place. Best Bet: Organic and Wild Mushrooms and the Sugar Sampler ($67).
7. 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. Want to give California all your food dollars? Then stick to the California Goods category! Best Bet: Dill Pollen from Pollen Ranch ($14) and Principato di Lucedio Riso Nero ($17).
8. 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 to wheat-free, preservative-free, vegan, etc. Best Bet: You're My Everything Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour ($7.50).
9. Love Your Larder: For all you readers across the pond, Love Your Larder is your go-to online marketplace for artisanal products in Great Britain! Some of the producers on the site are well-established makers of fine food, but most are small, family run businesses. Here's a list of all the producers currently selling on their site. Shop for fresh food and pantry goods, or sign up for a monthly subscription to their popular LarderBox. Best Bet: Buckwheat Flour from Shipton Mill (£1.75/bag) and Heather Honey Cut Comb (£7.90).
Do you have a favorite online resource for artisanal or specialty food products?
Related: Don't Mock Artisanal Pickle Makers
(Images: as linked)