This is all I’ve ever known about honey: it comes from bees. Since moving to Italy, however, I’ve learned a bit more. For instance, it’s sold in the pharmacies as an anti-allergen. A daily spoonful can diminish seasonal allergies by building up the body’s tolerance to local pollens. This won’t work with those cute bear-shaped honeys I grew up with, though. For allergy-prevention, the honey must be totally local, with the bees feeding only from pollens found in a short radius of your home.
There are all kinds of plant-specific honeys in our local farmacia (Eucalyptus allergy? Check. Ragweed? Check.), but my favorite thing is to walk the weekly market, where local beekeepers display glass jars of clear, golden, brown and even a black resinous honey. There are large jars for cooking or family consumption down to tiny 45 gram samplers. Last month, after a year of walking past these honey sellers, I was ready to commit. Sort of. What kind to buy?? I finally settled on five sample-size honeys from the Peterlini beekeepers in Rovereto:I promptly made biscuits and settled into a lunchtime tasting session (full disclosure: J helped). As you can see from the remaining honey levels, girasole and arancio won out. The acacia jar isn’t empty, by the way: the honey is clear.
So here’s a run-down on the five honeys we’re currently enjoying, from left to right:
- castagno — Chestnut honey is reddish brown with an intense smell and rather bitter aftertaste. Between the powerful beginning and bitter end lies the lingering sweetness of chestnuts. That middle period is enough to bring me back for more, and the finale makes me wish I hadn’t.
- girasole — Bright yellow and quick to crystallize, our sunflower honey has already taken on a buttery texture that’s easy to spread. The scent is grassy and the flavor (I had to go to the Peterlini website to pinpoint it) is both sweet and cool on the tongue. A-m-a-z-i-n-g.
- bosco — A dark dark forest honey that is thick, almost resinous and only slightly sweet. At the same time, when we first tried this jar, J and I turned to each other and said, “Tastes like honey.”
- acacia — The clear glass gem of the honey industry, if numerous web searches are an honest indication, acacia honey will never crystallize and holds a mild, light sweetness hinting at vanilla.
- arancio — Orange honey is a shiny yellow-orange that lightens with crystallization. Our jar has already thickened into sandy white grains that melt slowly on warm bread. It smells so strongly of orange blossoms that it’s hard to say if the flavor is citrus-y or just plays at it.
I had thought that my five honeys would sit out their lives on a shelf, to be brought down for guests. You see, I’ve always liked the idea of honey more than the actuality. Now I’m a convert, and I’ll be making biscuits again subito. Let’s see if we can’t finish off that girasole before anyone dares come visit.