I was raised to always bring a hostess/host gift when visiting someone's home, and I don't think the rules of etiquette have changed much over the years.
It's actually kind of fun finding creative yet appropriate gifts in the Hudson Valley, mostly because of the wonderful artisan food producers in the region. I believe that bringing a gift of wine or food is fine as long as the giver doesn't expect the hosts to make it a part of the evening's meal. Ideally, the gift should be something that the hosts can enjoy on their own.
Last year when I was at the Hudson Valley Wine & Food Festival Grand Reserve Tasting, my friend and I shared the cost of a case of one of our favorite wines from Cascade Mountain Winery. I tucked away my bottles and have been bringing them out as hostess/host gifts. (It's also a fun way to introduce friends to wines from the Hudson Valley.) I pick up bottles of organic maple syrup and local honey at farmers market, Clinton Vineyards cassis and jams and jellies from local farms -- all of which make wonderful gifts.
And unless your hosts have a dietary restriction, chocolate always makes a fine present. (I'd surely be happy with a gift of chocolate -- anytime, anyplace!) Earlier this year I was amazed when I tasted the chocolates made by Oliver Kita in Rhinebeck. (We featured the work of Oliver and two other of the region's finest chocolatiers in the February issue of Hudson Valley Connoisseur.) Oliver's chocolates reminded me of the incredibly fine confections I'd enjoyed while visiting Turin (Torino) Italy last year, and I can buy them close to home!
I went to Italy for Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre, Slow Food's international food conference last fall. While there, I had the pleasure to meet cookbook author Marlena Spieler and her absolutely delightful husband Alan. Among other things, they shared a colorful account of their trip from their home in England to Turin by train, which included a ride through the Alps. (I see she's just posted her own blog account of that trip!) My companion and I had flown into Turin from Brussels over the Alps, which was in itself a spectacular experience. After hearing Marlena and Alan's account, now I dream to someday also travel through the Alps by railroad.
On one of our last days in Turin, we ran into Alan as Marlena was shopping -- she had been invited to visit an Italian princess at her Turin apartment and was going to cook dinner there. (Marlena apparently enjoys even more of The Good Life than yours truly.) They invited us to join them, and I still regret that our schedule didn't allow it.
Hmm, what would one bring as a hostess gift to a princess in Italy?