Last summer, I went off to sardinia to look for bitter honey, miele amaro in Italian. Ordinarily I'm not a fan of honey, which seems more interesting to contemplate (the bees, the flowers, the ancient food of gods and goddesses) than actually to eat. But this honey, with its bitter aftertaste, was something else. A Sardinian friend introduced me to miele amaro when he offered a small jar as a house present. "Bitter?" I asked. "It's made from corbezzolo," he said, as if that explained everything.
It wasn't easy to find bitter honey in Sardinia, which lies in the deep green sea off Italy's west coast, but I ultimately succeeded. And while crisscrossing Sardinia on my quest (finding along the way other foods the island is famous for, such as the crisp flatbread called pane carasau and fregola, a cross between couscous and pasta), I also discovered that bitterness is a quality appreciated by the local palate.
Giuliano Pau, marketing director of Sardinia's renowned Argiolas winery, who picked me up at the airport in Cagliari, the capital, confirmed this. "We Sardinians are a people of excess," he proclaimed, with visible pride. "Excessive bitterness, excessive sweetness." A thread of bitterness runs through Sardinian food and wine, he said, and it adds an unexpected edge to the simplest flavors. Take, for example, the dessert wine called Angialas, which I sampled at Argiolas, just north of Cagliari. Made of Malvasia and Nasco grapes, Angialas is indeed sweet, but with a distinctive bitter-orange perfume that cuts the floral bouquet.