If my first few classes at UNISG are any indication of what is to come in the year ahead, it is guaranteed to be a great year. This past week my eyes were opened to the world of bees in a honey tasting class led by Andrea Paternooster. Andrea is a third generation beekeeper and owner of MieliThun in the northern provence of Trentino.
What is unique about Paternooster is that he practices nomadic beekeeping. This means that instead of leaving his bee hives in one remote location, he moves them with the seasons, as different species of flowers bloom, allowing his bees to make various mono-floral honeys and to create a unique line of products
Each hives consists of thousands of bees: one queen, 50,000 worker bees and 3,000 drones. The queen is the brain of the hive and serves as the reproducer in the hive, as she chooses just one drone to mate with. The worker bees are the busiest of the bunch with over 20 different responsibilities that include cleaning the hive, gathering pollen and collecting the nectar of flowers to produce honey.
We tasted six of Paternooster’s honeys, all part of a special collection he calls Quintessenza, that is so exclusive it’s only available to chefs and students for educational purposes. Each honey comes from a single plot of land and a single type of flower. It may sound strange to call honey exclusive but after tasting these unique varietals I now understand just how special honey can be.
Tasting honey can be compared to tasting wine. In order to smell and taste properly, Paternooster served each honey in a tall wine glass. For each honey we tasted we used the back of a spoon to move the honey along the sides of the glass, to extend its contact with oxygen in order to smell the honey and observe its color. Starting with a delicate French honeysuckle honey, we then tried a richer, almost savory rosemary honey that comes from the nectar of the small blue flowers of the herb. Next was a sunflower honey that both looked and tasted like the sun, with a bright yellow tinge and tropical fruit notes, and a eucalyptus honey that smelled of porcini mushrooms and tasted savory and almost salty. We ended with a dandelion honey, which had a sharp, acidic nose but tasted of butter and chamomile, and a honey from limonum flowers that grow in the Venetian Lagoon, which had a floral nose but tasted slightly bitter and medicinal.
Like wine, tasting a variety of different honeys is the best way to learn and now that my curiosity is sparked I am excited to continue to pursue my honey education. I may never look at the ordinary plastic honey bears at the supermarket the same way. I guess I am officially a honey snob.