Adios, Fiesta. Ciao, Italia.

Tastes of honey and cheese. Together. And then chocolate.

Wait, I’ve been here. This tastes like the flavors of Perugia. In fact, I’m including a photograph of a cheese plate with a palette of regional honey we enjoyed a few years back at Ristorante Gus.

But Central Market is making it easy to get those flavors by focusing on Italy from April 30 to May 13. These snapshots represent a preview of some of the products that will flood the shelves of every department during Passaporto Italia.

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Tre Numeri Parmigiano Reggiano? Never had heard of seeking this out, but Central Market did and has brought in huge wheels of the prized dairy cheese from Reggio-Emilia. While most cheeses from this region are branded on the outside with four-digit numbers, these are aged 20 to 24 months and are branded with three. Howard cracked open one to taste, and it melts in your mouth.

And why had I never noticed the barrels of amazing balsamic vinegars in the bulk section?

A convenient shortcut to assembling the ingredients for Ragu alla Bolognese can be found in a sleeve, a ready-to-cook mix of beef, pork, pancetta, onion, carrot, celery, tomato paste, seasoning and three bay leaves. The accompanying recipe card launches you onto the course of simmering the ingredients for three hours with milk, Italian red wine and beef stock.

My favorite things previewed were Sous Chef Santiago Flores’ arancini. The prep to make these fried, filled balls of risotto is more than I care to undertake at home so being able to buy them freshly ready-made is wonderful. The two featured are a spring vegetable one and a saffron one with beef marrow. Please keep these on permanently….

More cheese, please… with a wee bit of honey

Rabbit: “And help yourself, Pooh. Would you like condensed milk, or honey on your bread?”
Pooh: “Both. But, never mind the bread, please. Just a small helping, if you please?”
Rabbit: “There you are. Is uh… something wrong?”
Pooh: “Well, I did mean a little larger small helping.”

 The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

Twice a year it would happen. I could not breathe, and hives would gradually creep up from my calves. When they finally began to stretch up for my neck, where they would show, I would finally give in to the discomfort and go see my allergist for a steroid shot.

Now he is a well-respected allergist, and he ran all those stick-you tests. Cedar elm was one of the largest culprits, and they completely surrounded our home in Olmos Park. Red wine (Inner Pooh voice repeatedly interrupting the doctor’s words: I’m not listening.). And dairy products (Inner Pooh voice: I can’t hear you.). You mean as in milk, right? No, you can’t mean cheese?

So what’s a girl to do but give up drinking milk and live with periodic outbreaks of hives?

I had never been much of a fan of honey. But that was because I had never had a dab of it dribbled on the ideal vehicle for it – cheese. And we had to travel to Sevilla, Andalusia, Spain, last year to make that discovery.

The cheese plate at this beautiful restaurant we loved came with a nutty, orange-flavored honeycomb in the middle. Hold the bread; no need for it. Just pure cheese and honey. I feel guilty about not remembering the name of the restaurant in Sevilla, so am trying to atone by including photos of it as well.

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A year later, only a month ago, we were wandering the streets of Perugia, Umbria, Italy, in search of a bite for lunch. I was feeling virtuous for not being seduced by the stunning chocolate confections in the window of Sandri Patisserie on Corso Vannucci.

We settled instead at Ristorante Gus, pleasantly shaded in the middle of the pedestrian-only Via Mazzini. According to a New York Times article that came out while we were in Italy, Gus is new. The locals seemed to love it and were all ordering sushi, but we were too recently de-planed to want that.

Good intentions still intact, I ordered a smoked trout salad, and Lamar had a vegetarian panino and chickpea soup. Everything was great, but that pesky little inner Pooh voice started singing about the bees once I spied the cheese plate. This bountiful cheese board came with a palette of eight different honeys to dabble on the cheese.

Now I am hooked. A comb full of honey leapt into my cart at Mustafa Asian and Middle Eastern Grocery Store. And from there, the blame’s all on Central Market with those banners tempting me with “For the Love of Cheese” every time I drove by.

Since vacations are not around every day, I’m resigned to letting Central Market shop around the world for me. Although I wish CM’s blog did not mention the word “dairy” and then this:

While cheese is a good source of protein, calcium and vitamin D, let’s face it: Fat is what gives cheese its beguiling texture and depth of flavor.

(Inner Pooh voice: I can’t hear you.)

To go with the honeycomb, I selected some rosemary Asiago, blue Stilton, Bucheron and some other powerful blue-veined, ancient-looking cheese. Sorry, doctor, but such behavior would be great for your business… if I had not moved away from all those cedar elms.

And sure wish I had a bottle of Umbria’s Montefalco Sagrantino to go with that cheese and honey.

So Pooh ate, and ate, and ate, and ate, and ate, and ate, and ate, and ate… and ATE! Until at last he said to Rabbit in a rather sticky voice: “I must be going now. Good-bye, Rabbit.”
Rabbit: “Well, good-bye, if you’re sure you won’t have any more.”
Pooh: “Is there any more?”

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh