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California getaway: Picnics in Carmel-by-the-Sea

You made good time driving to Carmel — and you’re just in time for lunch. But when 60 restaurants compete for attention in this square-mile seaside village, choosing a table can be a shot in the dark. A better plan is to save your dining dollars for a romantic dinner ( Casanova  is a prime choice) and put together a little al-fresco somethin’ somethin’ for right now.
A bit of hunting-gathering is required – the  perfect way to explore downtown – before you take your goody bags to dog-friendly Carmel Beach at the bottom of Ocean Avenue, or lay out your spread at Devendorf or Picadilly Park . (Note: Alcohol is allowed on the beach, but not in the parks.)
Start your picnic provisioning at the Cheese Shop in three-tier Carmel Plaza, which has been remodeled with Italian stone staircases, limestone planters, benches and fire pits. The plaza is the home of the Summer Live Music Series, too, which runs from late June to mid-August.
Sample any of the shop’s 250 fromages – cow, goat, sheep, water buffalo – from 14 countries before deciding on two or three. Cheeses average $10 to $25 a pound, with some super-aged, handmade varieties up to $90 a pound – and co-manager Kyle Felder has some recommendations.
Try the Gouda-style Jeffs’ Select, made in Wisconsin and  cave-aged for nine months in Minnesota. A Basque pilota, made with a blend of sheep and cow’s milk, is a little sweeter. And if you want to go local, the Schoch Family Farmstead in the Salinas Valley crafts small-batch cheeses from raw milk, including a rustic Monterey jack and creamy East of Edam, a cheese inspired by Dutch edam and channeling John Steinbeck.
Explore the shop’s vast wine collection, getting local with pinot noirs and chardonnays, or international with reds and whites from Argentina, New Zealand, France, Italy, Spain and beyond. “We also have a few geeky varietals you don’t see that often, such as semillon,” Felder said.
Resident oenophile Felder recommends two wines from the Monterey AVA — a 2015 Seabold chardonnay ($35) and a 2014 Vocal/Lilo Vineyard pinot noir ($55) — and a wild card from Greece, a spicy white 2016 Hoof & Lur moschofilero varietal containing wild yeast ($25).
Next stop: Get a sweet drizzle to accompany your picnic at the Carmel Honey Company , just across the plaza.  Local single-source raw honey in four varieties comes in plastic sticks and jars, along with tins of honeycomb — a great addition to any cheese platter — and gift boxes ($6 to $45).

It’s the shop’s backstory that gets all the buzz, though. The store’s founder is Carmel High School freshman Jake Reisdorf, and his pollinator passion began when he wrote a fifth-grade report on honeybee colony collapse disorder (he got an A, by the way).
Now he’s a beekeeper and bee educator who gives talks at area schools. He and his parents, Jeff and Becky Reisdorf, opened the store last August. They harvest honey from the 125 hives they’ve placed on 50 retail and residential properties around the Monterey Peninsula, including Pebble Beach Golf Course and Carmel Valley’s Bernardus Lodge. More than 20 area restaurants buy their golden nectar.
Beyond retail, the Reisdorfs host honey and pollen tastings, and pairings with cheese, chocolate, fruit and the like. Call ahead to sign up for the Honeybee Education Program ($35 for a half-hour, $50 for an hour), with honey tasting.
Now for some picnic cold cuts: Salumeria Luca is the go-to for (mostly) imported salumi ($13 to $30 a pound), panini, cold sandwiches, Italian olives, crostini and freshly baked loaves of crusty bread. Create your own sampling of 14 salumi options — mortadella, porchetta, hot coppa and soppressata, perhaps —or ask the counterperson to put together a meat platter ($10 to $27).
Don’t leave without tubs of Calabrian chile spread and olive-based salsa rustica, like tapenade only better. Bargain alert: A glass of Italian vino is only $8.  Sit out front and sip while taking in the passing scene.
For the return trip home, load the ice chest with housemade pasta and Bolognese sauce.
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A picnic needs dessert. Good thing the Cottage of Sweets is just around the corner in a fairytale cottage built in 1922. Inside, you’ll find more sweets (650) than square feet (500). Squeeze in for English toffee, Turkish delight and licorice from around the world, as well as truffles, fudge, saltwater taffy, gourmet malt balls and chocolate everything.
Now it’s time to picnic. Did anyone bring a blanket?

If You Go
Carmel Beach:  End of Ocean Avenue; www.carmelcalifornia.com/carmel-beach.htm
Devendorf Park:  Ocean Avenue and Junipero Street;  www.carmelcalifornia.com/carmel-parks.htm
Picadilly Park:  Dolores Street between Ocean and Seventh Avenues
Carmel Plaza: Both the Cheese Shop ( www.thecheeseshopinc.com ) and Carmel Honey Company ( www.carmelhoneycompany.com ) are in this three-tiered shopping plaza on Mission Street and Ocean Avenue. The plaza’s Summer Live Music Series runs June 29-Aug. 17; www.carmelplaza.com .
Salumeria Luca:  Dolores Street between Ocean and Seventh Avenues, near Picadilly Park; www.salumerialuca.com
Cottage of Sweets: Ocean Avenue between Lincoln and Monte Verde Streets, www.cottageofsweets.com
Carmel Visitors Center: Carmel Plaza,   www.carmelchamber.org/visitor-center

 

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