RSVP - and bring the olive oil

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The Independent Online
The chic dinner party set no longer take a bottle of wine with them along as a gift for the host. The popularity of cookery television programmes and books has helped fire diners' imaginations and they are now taking a bottle of good olive oil or expensive vinegar.

"More and more people are buying olive oil as a gift so that the cook or the person who's keen on cooking has something different to have in the kitchen," according to Tony Greenwood, the grocery and confectionery buyer at Selfridges.

"It's more thoughtful than a bottle of wine which is a little less imaginative.

"It's a slightly different idea and a good cook would want to have more than one oil in their kitchen."

Dinner guests might pay as much as pounds 18 for their chosen token of appreciation, which would probably be a tasteful bottle of single estate extra virgin olive oil from northern Italy.

But the really generous might decide to splash out on a bottle of 40- year-old balsamic vinegar, costing pounds 50 for 10cl.

"The sky is the limit so far as balsamic vinegar is concerned. It's dark and sweet and nothing like the vinegar you put on your chips," said Mr Greenwood.

"With the very old vinegar the flavour is such that you almost need to use a pipette for it."

Another new gift trend - though rather less costly - is panettone, the Italian bread-like cake.

"They have always been beautifully presented and are designed as a gift. It tastes good and it looks good," said Mr Greenwood.

But the surprise sell-out food gift is another Italian cake called Veneziana Farcita. Costing pounds 5.99, it contains zabaglione, a custard made with Marsala wine, and is made in Castelfranco, near Venice.

After the store conducted a tasting, all the cakes on the shelf were sold within minutes.