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Mississippi-made adds a special touch to gift-giving

Searching high and low for that perfect holiday gift may best start right at home. There is a multitude of special gifts that can be purchased here in Mississippi, boosting the state’s economy while showing pride in the state’s heritage.

One of the highlights of the made-in-Mississippi shopping season is the Chimneyville Crafts Festival the first weekend in December at the Mississippi Trade Mart. The festival is the premier event of the Craftsmen’s Guild of Mississippi, which represents more than 400 professional artisans.

“The Guild craftsmen have a tremendous impact on Mississippi’s culture and are vital players in community planning and economic development,” said Julia Daily, executive director, Mississippi Craftsmen’s Guild. “If you think of the favorite gifts you’ve ever received, you’ll have a handmade gift among them. The exhibiting members of the Craftsmen’s Guild of Mississippi create some of the finest work in the country and it is available here in Mississippi for holiday shopping, as well as gift-giving throughout the rest of the year.”

Chimneyville has earned the Southeast Tourism Association’s “Top Twenty Events in the Southeast” award. The festival is one of the largest, oldest and most prominent craft shows in the region.

“More than 200 craftsmen exhibit their products for sale,” Daily said. “Craft objects sold during this three-day show provide a large part of the yearly income of guild craftsmen, allowing them to live and work in Mississippi.”

This year Chimneyville is Saturday, December 2, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday, December 3, from noon to 5 p.m. at the Mississippi Trade Mart, High Street, Jackson. A special “early bird” preview party will be held Friday night, December 1, from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.

In the spring of 2007, Mississippi artists will have a year-round venue to display their wares and provide craft demonstrations. The guild is scheduled to move into a new 20,000-square-foot building located on the Natchez Trace Parkway and Rice Road in Ridgeland.

“The building will service the entire state through cultural tourism and provide a venue for fine craft,” Daily said. “The center is designed to be both a community gathering place and home to craft education. The new Mississippi Crafts Center will be to Mississippi what Tamarack is to West Virginia and Southern Highlands Guild is to North Carolina. It will be one of the largest tourist attractions on the Natchez Trace.”

Another favorite place to purchase gifts made from Mississippi artists is Gail Pittman Studios, Jackson, www.gailpittman.com.

“I think people, first of all, like the color and designs, and the quality, of course,” said Leo Hinds, sales and marketing director, Gail Pittman Inc. “But they also want to support ‘one of their own.’ So many people identify with Gail and her core values, the way she treats guests, and the way she entertains. Generally, this is the strongest time of the year. Customers are picking products to add to their collections or seeking new ideas to start collections, and for gift giving. You can pick from more than 125 different items in one pattern.”

Gail Pittman is a homegrown success story, and is now represented at more than 350 locations across the country. The business employs approximately 100 people. While Hinds recommends going to local store outlets first, there is also a Gail Pittman membership group at www.gailpittmanmembers.com that offers users access to special patterns.

In addition to artwork and crafts, food products are often a favorite holiday gift.

The Mississippi Gift Company located in Greenwood and online at http://www.themississippigiftcompany.com/ has seen a steady increase in interest in purchasing Mississippi gifts in the 13 years it has been in business.

“We represent people from small mom-and-pop operations to big companies,” said Cindy Tyler, owner, Mississippi Gift Company. “People in Mississippi are great cooks, and make a lot of unique items. With the growth of the Internet, the products are more accessible. A combination of all that has made Mississippi products more popular.”

If you don’t like crowded shopping malls at Christmas, Tyler suggests online holiday shopping doesn’t take much time. The company’s online ordering is very popular, and it tries to make the site as user friendly as possible.

“Working people just don’t have time to shop,” she said. “We try to make it easy, and gift wrap to your specification. Customers can order now and ship in a month or two if they want. We are not just offering good customer service, but quality products made in Mississippi. All the tax dollars are staying in Mississippi, which is important.”

Many of her customers get gifts from friends in other states with wares that reflect their region’s specialties. The customers want to show friends and family what Mississippi has to offer. And there are a lot of Mississippi transplants across the U.S. who purchase a taste of Mississippi for themselves or to give as gifts.

Mississippi Gift Company now offers more than 500 food and gift items handcrafted by more than 120 Mississippi gourmet food companies.

It isn’t too early to start thinking about ordering one of the state’s most popular holiday food offerings: Mississippi State cheese (www.msucheese.com). Over a period of a year — with most sales during the holidays — the MAFES Sales Store sells approximately 100,000 blocks of cheese. It could sell more, but that is as many as it can make.

Debbie Hoffman, staff assistant at the MAFES Sales Store, recommends ordering early to be assured of the type of cheese you want for the holiday. Its most popular offering is Edam cheese. It sells 40,000 Edams. Cheddar is next in popularity followed by Vallagret, a Norwegian-style Swiss cheese with a slightly sweet, nutty taste that was developed by a graduate student several years ago.

“It gets more popular every year,” Hoffman said. “We used to make 3,500 or 5,000. This year it is more like 7,500.”

It also makes 4,500 jalapeño pepper spreads, and those sell out early because of the limited quantity. Hoffman recommends ordering by mid-October to be assured of getting Vallagret or pepper spreads.

Why is Mississippi State cheese so popular? Hoffman said quality is important, but it is also a tradition that started in 1938. In the past, you had to be a student or alumni to buy the cheese, but now there are no restrictions.

New products this year include peanuts and peanut butter packaged in Mississippi State tins. And muscadine juice is now offered for sale online. Most of the sales are by telephone, fax or in person at the store, rather than the Internet. The store is located in the Herzer building located approximately 300 yards south of the football stadium. It was recently moved from the rear to the front of the building to make it more accessible to customers.

The Indianola Pecan House is another source for holiday food gifts. The gifts can be ordered online www.pecanhouse.com or by calling 1-800-541-6252. The Pecan House has stores in Indianola, Ridgeland, Tupelo, Hattiesburg and Flowood. In addition to other food items such as cheese straws, hickory smoked glazed hams and hickory smoked turkeys, the store offers pecans in every flavor imaginable.

“Our number one selling flavor is our praline pecan,” said Tim Timbs, president, Indianola Pecan House. “Residents of Mississippi want to show their pride by giving a well-made, quality gift made in the State of Mississippi. You can visit one of the stores, order online or by fax or phone. It makes it really easy. All we need is your information and we take care of the rest.”

The state’s pecan harvest starts in late October, and Timbs said signs are that there will be a good crop of pecans this year.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette@bellsouth.net.


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