The fantastic world of Italian honey and the many things you probably don't know about it!
Marina Marchese, renowned honey sommelier, shared a wealth of information all about bees and beekeeping.
*Almost all beekeeper’s honeybees are Italian: they’re more docile and are good workers and honey producers.
*Italy has a long history of honey tasting, using the same sensory analysis techniques used in wine tastings: sight, smell and taste.
*Only the female bee produces honey and she produces a mere 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey during her lifetime.
*The lifespan of a bee is brief – just 45 days.
*Contrary to popular belief, bees don't attack people and prefer to be left alone to go about their business of honey-making.
*Bees produce honey for food and store it in their hive to eat during the winter.
*Beekeepers only take a small amount of a hive’s honey at a time to allow plenty for the bee’s nutrition.
*In peak season, there are roughly 60 to 80,000 bees to a hive and during the slower winter months that number reduces to about half.
*Bees produce royal jelly, a creamy white substance with a high nutrient content that young bees make to feed larvae until their third day of age and for the whole life of the queen bee.
The're over 300 types of honey on the market in Italy with different colors and flavors depending on the plants from which the bees draw nectar says Wanted in Rome.
The most common is millefiori honey, because bees tend to drift from one kind of flower to another drawing nectar. There are also mono-floral honeys.
The flavor and color of honey will vary depending on the flower. Chestnut honey has bitter flavor tones and goes well with meat and salumi platters.
There are many specialty honeys on the market and one of my favorites is honey flavored with truffles. It’s perfect paired with aged hard cheese, like pecorino Romano and Parmesan.
According to the Honey Traveler although Italy offers a wide selection of regionally produced honeys with over 40 mono-floral varieties, Italians are not large consumers of honey, with per capita consumption of only .9 pounds (400 grams) per year. This is well below values of other European countries such as Austria and Greece at 3.2 lbs per capita (1,600 g.) and Germany over 2.6 lbs per captia (1,200 g.).
There are approximately 72,000 beekeepers in Italy, of which about 10% are professional. The average annual production of honey is approximately 9,000 – 12,000 tons (8,000 – 11,000 metric tons).
National Honey Events in Italy
National Honey Day is a competition of pastry chefs using honey.
Three Drops of Gold National Honey Competition.
History of honey and beekeeping in Italy
Beekeeping in Italy dates back to the Roman times. Pliny the Elder first wrote about transporting honey along the Po river by boat.
There are records dating back to 300 BC about beekeeping in Sicily.
In the past the Sicilian technique for extracting honey was by pressing the combs which yielded a honey rich in pollen.
In Sardinia, honey extraction was done by squeezing the combs by hand, or pressing.
Until the beginning of the last century, in Calabria, women were seen in groups carrying hives on their heads at night.
In Sicily, the movement of bees was entrusted to mules.
Bees in Italian culture
When you stroll through the streets of Rome, you often come upon bees in art and design. One of Bernini's fountains, not far from Piazza Barberini is known as the Fountain of the Bee.
Head to Rome’s medieval Castel Sant’Angelo to see this bee relief.
The bee is the Barberini family emblem and symbol and you'll find it frequently in their familial Palazzi.
The Coppedé neighborhood in North Rome is a favorite of mine. As you stroll through the neighborhood, bees are featured on the pavement, buildings and gates.
This often overlooked, but extremely beautiful and captivating quartière, is named after the neighborhood's designer and architect, Florentine Gino Coppedé.
The largest Italian honey and beekeeping cooperative in Italy
Conapi in Bologna is the largest national beekeepers cooperative in Italy and also one of the most important in Europe.
Conapi selects only beekeepers who work using traditional methods; who devote great care to the health of bees and who are fastidious about production and storage of their products and guarantee absolute freshness.
Conapi selects beekeepers who promote healthy beekeeping that offers a rich variety of wildflower and mono-floral honeys and high quality hive products: pollen, royal jelly and propolis.
Conapi is the leading producer of organic honey in Italy. Over 20% of Italian organic honey is produced by beekeeping companies that belong to the cooperative.
Conapi has a shop location in Bologna and also sells its honey online through the Mielizia company.
Since 1979 Mielizia has been the brand that has represented the beekeepers of Conapi, who collect the finest Italian honey, pollen, royal jelly and propolis from Piedmont to Sicily.
One delicious honey recipe on the Mielizia website is:
400g of sea-bass fillets
4 tablespoons breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon grated parmesan or pecorino cheese
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Oregano or marjoram (optional)
Pachino cherry tomatoes to garnish
Prepare the crumb mixture:
Mix breadcrumbs, sesame seeds, oil, salt and pepper.
Add oregano and marjoram (optional).
Cover the sea-bass with the crumb mixture
Bake in a non-stick ovenproof dish with a drizzle of oil until golden.
Add a few teaspoons of honeydew honey and a sprinkling of pollen.
Serve garnished with Pachino cherry tomatoes, honeydew honey and pollen.
About Marina Marchese, the Honey Sommelier
Marina is the international best selling author of The Honey Connoisseur: Selecting, Tasting and Pairing Honey with a Guide to More than 30 Varietals, Honey for Dummies and her personal journey into beekeeping Honeybee: Lessons from an Accidental Beekeeper.
She is the first U.S. citizen to be accepted into the Italian National Register of Experts in the Sensory Analysis of Honey and the founder of the American Honey Tasting Society, an educational organization that teaches the Italian method of sensory analysis to taste and evaluate honey.
Marina also offers classes and honey tastings.
Jason Wilson says in the The Washington Post --
"Which is to say Marchese's palate is so finely tuned that she can literally taste the beekeeper's fear in a
smear of honey."
I make a small commission on purchases made through links on my website. Prices are identical for you, but purchasing through my links helps support my work to bring you great recipes, podcast episodes, culinary and travel information.