Sarah Grueneberg, chef of Chicago’s lauded Italian restaurant Spiaggia, has an obsession with honey—specifically, Mieli Thun honeys made by nomadic beekeeper Andrea Paternoster. “I offer vertical tastings of his honey with our cheese cart,” says Grueneberg. “Each honey reflects nuances of a different flower and region. There’s a sunflower honey, eucalyptus, alfalfa, cardoon honey from Calabria. Each has so many different qualities.” Grueneberg’s honey fascination recently landed her in Italy, where she was visiting Paternoster and his bees. The duo met in Trentino and after a few days of eating drove five hours to Venice with Paternoster’s bees. “We left at 2 a.m. and arrived at dawn and took the bees on a boat through the Ventian canal (above). I was pinching myself it was so unreal.” Here, she shares more highlights from the trip.
“In Trentino, we stayed at this agritourism in the heart of the Dolomites that is run by Andrea Facci, who is a partner in Mieli Thun. Facci’s mother made us gnocco fritto, which is basically a pocket of fried dough that you pull apart and stuff with culatelo and other meats. She also made us piadina, which is kind of like an English muffin but way better. It’s fried and you peel it apart and shove different meets in there. While we were staying here Pasternoster taught me how to make pinzimonio, which is a raw vegetable crudité eaten with olive oil and vinegar. He added a twist and used honey emulsified in vinegar as his base. It was like liquid gold. I serve a version at Spiaggia with prosciutto and fried stuffed squash blossoms.” Via ai Dossi, 38010 Fai Della Paganella, Trentino, 39/(0) 461-581-431, florandonole.it
Albergo Ristorante Nerina
“I didn’t think we’d find pizza in Trentino because it’s so far north but we went to this trattoria, owned and run by the Di Nuzzo family, and they had the most amazing pizza bianca (above) . They also served us a big plate of cured meats but the lardo in that region, known as lardo di Colonnata, stood out. I’ve never had lardo like that. It’s cured in basins made from white marble that comes from caves in the Alps. It is so silky and aromatic.” Via A. Degasperi 21, 39/(0) 463-510-111, albergonerina.it
“The name of this restaurant translates to ‘old fry house.’ It’s a very traditional restaurant and they serve the freshest fish, just fried, and presented in paper cones. They actually asked me to come work for them. I want to go back and learn how they make their batter. It isn’t a thick batter. It’s the exact opposite of fish and chips. It’s a very thin layer—you can see through to the seafood underneath—but it still manages to be crisp. I loved the whole prawn with the head on. You have to eat the whole head—it’s where all the flavor is. I also had the best tiramisu of my life here. Tiramisu comes from Venice but this version wasn’t layered with lady fingers. The chef took a more modern approach. You got the mouthfeel of the custardy cream and booze but it was presented free form and plated with various components. I think the quality of the tiramisu in Italy is so much better than what we find in America because of the ingredients. The egg yolks they use are bright orangey red. That definitely makes a difference.” Calle della Regina, 2262, Venice, 39/(0) 415-222-881, veciofritolin.it
“We took the bees up in the Dolomites to pollinate rhododendron flowers on the mountain. People in the city below bring their cows up the mountain in the summer to eat grass and flowers and they milk them twice a day and make cheese from the milk. There is a family that lives up there and cares for the cows all summer and people can stop in their home for a bite. It’s very, very casual mountainside restaurant that is only open from June until mid-September. We stopped for breakfast and sat down with the family and had warm milk, fresh cheeses, berry jam, strudel, and cured meats that were all homemade (above). They also made us a crispy polenta with honey. It was one of the most unexpected meals.” Bresimo, Trentino