It is thought that beekeeping in Italy began with the first Greek settlers in southern Italy in 700 to 800 B.C. but it wasn’t until much later that it is documented by the writers and scholars of the time. Marcus Terentius Varro (116 BC – 27 BC), wrote of bee farming in the third volume of his famous, “De Re Rustica” (On Agriculture) and Publius Vergilius Maro (70 BC – 19 BC), in the fourth volume of the poem, “Georgics” (To Farm). Varro writes authoritatively of beekeeping practices such as placement and construction of the hives, good honey plants and the business opportunity of apiaries, yet he waxes poetic too as he describes bees as,
‘the winged attendants of the Muses,’ because if at any time they are scattered they are quickly brought into one place by the beating of cymbals or the clapping of hands; and as man has assigned to those divinities Helicon and Olympus, so nature has assigned to the bees the flowering untilled mountain
Vergilius speaks highly of the home life of bees, their valiant defense of, and loyalty to their leader. He concludes by describing a method of creating bees from the body of a dead ox. This may sound primitive, but this was an example of the idea of spontaneous generation that dominated thinking for almost two millennia until it was ultimately disproved in the 19th Century by the experiments of Louis Pasteur.
Paradoxically, while Italy offers a wide selection of regionally produced honeys with over 40 monofloral 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).
The Cities of Honey:
46 cities and three mountain communities, each noted by region below, with an established tradition of beekeeping have formed this group of cities to promote honey—especially the variety and diversity of honey—in particular, of virgin honey (raw unprocessed honey). Celebrating the varieties of Italian honey by flavor, aroma, color, scent and different botanical origin (rather than the generic homogenized version of honey with the same color, smell and taste, without history, origin or variety). Any trip to Italy should include a honey expedition to at least one of these cities to explore the countryside, parks, food, traditions and heritage.
Local Honey in the Parks:
The Italian Protected Areas preserve a rich heritage of local products, to support traditional activities and to safeguard biodiversity: in these pages you will find the list of the honey from the parks provided by local producers.
Honey Seal of Warranty:
Seal of origin and warranty – [English] for Italian Honey. To facilitate the identification and selection of excellent Italian products, The Italian Beekeepers Association (Federazione Apicoltori Italiani (FAI)) has created a Producers voluntarily submit to a signed regulation, asserting their honey has characteristics superior to those provided by law, absolute authenticity of the source of honey, freshness, fine and uniform crystallization using glass packaging only (except for honey combs).
Italy Honey Producing Regions:
Abruzzo | Aosta Valley | Apulia | Basilicata | Calabria | Campania | Emilia-Romagna | Friuli-Venezia-Giulia | Lazio (Latium) | Liguria | Lombardy | Molise | Piedmont | Sardinia | Sicily | The Marshes | Trentino Alto Adige | Tuscany | Veneto | Umbria
Honey Jar Labeling:
Here is a Miele to Honey dictionary to help understand some of the labeling you may find on Italian honey jars:
- ‘Miele centrifugato’: Extracted honey—Honey removed from the comb with a centrifuge.
- ‘Miele di favo’: Chunk honey—Honey sold in the comb.
- ‘Miele di macchia Mediterranea’ or ‘Macchia’: Macchia or Scrub Honey (aka Marquis honey)—Honey produced from dense Mediterranean coastal (evergreen) scrubs and associated wildflowers.
- ‘Miele de melata’ or ‘Melata’: Honeydew honey—Honey produced from insect honeydew or plant secretions other than nectar.
- ‘Miele millefiori’: Wildflower honey—Honey of a thousand flowers
- ‘Miele di nettare’: Blossom Honey—Honey produced from flower nectar.
- ‘Miele con pezzi’: Chunk honey—Similar to comb honey except one or more pieces of honey comb floating in a jar with honey.
- ‘Miele scolato’: Drained honey—Honey drained from the comb with no heat or pressure.
- ‘Miele torchiato’: Honey removed from the comb with heat and/or pressure.
- ‘Miele vergine integrale’: Raw honey—Virgin honey; traditional name for raw, unprocessed, unblended honey.
For an explanation of the types of honey noted above, see the Honey Buyer’s Guide
Italy produces an astonishing number of single flower (monofloral) and wildflower “millifiori” honeys. Single flower honeys, with sensory characteristics derived mainly from one type of plant, are listed below, while both wildflower honeys and single flower honeys are listed by region above. The flavors of wildflower honeys from Italy and to a lessor extent, single flower honeys, are the result of the mix of blossoms of a region during a particular season. Consequently, like wine, these honeys are completely unique to that place and season. Most are produced every year while others are less regular and highly subject to weather conditions.
Common Italian Honeys
- Acacia – ‘Miele di acacia’ (Robinia pseudoacacia L.)
- Alfalfa – ‘Miele di erba medica’ (Medicago sativa L.)
- Cherry Honey – ‘Miele di Marasca’ (Prunus mahaleb)
- Chestnut – ‘Miele di castagno’ (Castanea sativa Mill)
- Citrus Honey – ‘Miele di zagara (Orange Blossom Honey) or Miele di agrumi (Citrus Honey) or Miele arancio (Orange Honey)’ (Blossoms of Citrus: Orange, bergamot, lemon, mandarin)
- Clover – ‘Miele di trifoglio’ (Trifolium spp., T. incarnatum)
- Common Heather – ‘Miele di calluna’ (Calluna vulgaris Hull.)
- Dandelion – ‘Miele tarassaco (Dente di Leone)’ (Taraxacum officinale Web)
- Dandelion & Apple – ‘Miele di Tarassaco e Melo’ (Taraxacum officinale & Malus domestica)
- Eucalyptus – Red River Gum – ‘Miele di eucalpito’ (Eucalyptus camaldulensis Dehnh)
- Fir Honeydew (Spruce & Fir) – ‘Melata d’abete’ (Fir: Abies alba and Red Spruce: Picea excelsa) (Insects: Cinara costate, C. piceae, Physokermes hemicryphus)
- Forest Honeydew – ‘Melata di bosco, Melata di metcalfa’ (Insect: Metcalfa pruinosa (Say))
- Lavender – ‘Miele di lavanda’ (Lavandula angustifolia)
- Lime Tree (aka Linden or Basswood) – ‘Miele di tiglio’ (Tilia spp.)
- Oak Honeydew – ‘Melata di quercia’ (Quercus robur, Q. petraea, Q. pubescens) (Insects: Lachnus iliciphilus, Lachnus roboris, Tuberculatus annulatus,Thelaxes dryophila)
- Rape – ‘Miele di colza’ (Brassica napus)
- Rhododendron – ‘Miele di rododendro’ (Rhododendron spp.)
- Rosemary – ‘Miele di rosmarino’ (Rosmarinus officinalis)
- Sainfoin – ‘Miele di lupinella’ (Onobrychis viciifolia Scop.)
- Savory (aka Abruzzi Thyme Honey) – ‘Miele di santoreggia’ (Satureja montana L.) [see Slow Foods]
- Silver Fir Honeydew – ‘Melata di abete’ (Abies alba Miller) (Insects: Cinara spp)
- Strawberry Tree – ‘Miele di corbezzolo’ (Arbutus unedo L.)
- Sulla (aka Spanish sainfoin, French honeysuckle, Sweetvetch) – ‘Miele di sulla’ (Hedysarum coronarium L.)
- Sunflower – ‘Miele di girasole’ (Helianthus annuus L.)
- Thyme – ‘Miele di timo’ (Thymus spp.)
Rare Italian Honeys ———————————–
- Annual Yellow-Woundwort – ‘Miele di erba strega’ (Stachys annua L.)
- Almond Honey – ‘Miele di mandorlo’ (Prunus dulcis)
- Astragalus nebrodensis Honey – ‘Miele di Astragalus nebrodensis’ (Astragalus nebrodensis)
- Apple Tree – ‘Miele di melo’ (Malus domestica)
- Asphodel (King’s Spear Honey)- ‘Miele di Asfodelo, Mebi di cadrilloni in Sardinia’ (Asphodelus)
- Berseem Clover – (aka Egyptian Clover) ‘Trifolglio Alessandrino’ (Trifolium alexandrinum L.)
- Birdsfoot Trefoil – ‘Miele di Ginestrino’ (Lotus corniculatus)
- Blackberry & Raspberries (aka Bramble) – ‘Miele di rovo’ (Rubus spp.)
- Borage – ‘Miele di borragine’ (Borago officinalis)
- Carob Tree – ‘Miele di carrubo’ (Ceratonia siliqua)
- Cherry Honey – ‘Miele di ciliegio’ (Prunus spp.)
- Coriander – ‘Miele di coriandolo’ (Coriandrum sativum)
- Dill Honey – ‘Miele di Aneto’ (Anethum graveolens)
- Enula Honey – ‘Miele di enula’ (Inula viscosa)
- False Indigo – ‘Miele Amorfa Fruticosa’ (Amorpha fruticosa L.)
- Gold Bullion (aka Solidago) – ‘Miele di verga d’oro’ (Solidago spp., Perennial herbs of the Compositae including the most important production is nettarifera S. virgurea)
- Grass Viper Honey – ‘Miele di erba viperina’ (Echium plantagineum and E. vulgare)
- Hawthorn – ‘Miele di biancospino’ (Crataegus monogyna)
- Heather Honey – ‘Miele di erica arborea’ (Erica arborea L.)
- Horehound – ‘Miele di marrubio’ (Marrubium vulgare L.)
- Ivy – ‘Miele di edera’ (Hedera helix)
- Jujuba Honey – ‘Miele di giuggiola’ (Zizyphus sativa)
- Knapweed – ‘Miele di Scabiosa’ (Centaurea scabiosa L.)
- Larch Honeydew – ‘Melata di larice’ (Larix decidua L.) (Insects: Cinara laricis)
- Loquat (aka Japanese Loquat, Japanese Medlar) – ‘Miele di nespolo, Miele di nespolo del Giappone’ (Eryobotrya japonica)
- Maple Honeydew – ‘Melata di acero’ (Acer campestre L., Acer mospessulanum L., Acer saccharinum L)
- Marasca Karst – ‘Miele di marasca del carso’ (Prunus mahaleb)
- Maro (aka Cat Thyme) – ‘Miele di maro’ (Teucrium marum)
- Melon Honey – ‘Miele di melone o popone’ (Cucumis melo)
- Mint (aka Peppermint) – ‘Miele di menta’ (Mentha piperita)
- Mullein – ‘Miele di verbasco’ (Verbascum spp.)
- Myrtle – ‘Miele di mirto’ (Myrtus communis)
- Onion – ‘Miele di cipolla’ (Allium cepa)
- Orange Blossom Honey – ‘Miele di zagara (Orange Blossom Honey) or Miele di agrumi (Citrus Honey) or Miele arancio (Orange Honey)’ (Not just orange blossoms but blossoms of Citrus:Orange, bergamot, lemon, mandarin)
- Prickly Pear Cactus – ‘Miele di fichidindia (aka Miele di fichi d’India, Miele di fico d’India)’ (Opuntia ficus-indica)
- Raspberry – ‘Miele di lampone’ (Rubus idaeus)
- Rocket Honey (aka Sanacciola) – ‘Miele di ruchetta o sanacciola’ (Cruciferae)
- Saltmarch Honey – ‘Miele di barena’ (Limonium vulgare, fam. Plumbaginaceae,)
- Schiucciolo (aka Yellow Star Thistle) – ‘Miele di schiucciolo, Spino giallo’ (Centaurea solstitialis)
- Sicyos (aka Bur Cucumber, Sycios) – ‘Miele di Sicyos’ (Sicyos angulatus L.)
- Sideritis – ‘Miele di stregonia’ (Sideritis syriaca)
- Spruce Honeydew – ‘Abete Rosso’ (Picea abies Karstern) (Insects: Cinara costate, C. piceae, Physokermes hemicryphus)
- Thistle – ‘Miele di Cardo’ (Carduus ssp., Cirsium ssp., Galactites tomentosa, Centaurea ssp.)
- Thorn (aka Christ’s Thorn, Jerusalem Thorn) – ‘Miele di marruca’ (Paliurus spina-christi)
- Tree of Heaven – ‘Miele di alianto’ (Ailanthus altissima)
- Wild Lavender – ‘Miele di lavanda’ (Lavandula stoechas)
- Wild Carrot (aka Queen Ann’s Lace) – ‘Mieli di carota selvatica’ (Daucus canota or Daucus aureus)
- Willow Honeydew – ‘Miele di melata di salice’ (Insect: Tuberolachnus salignus, from Salix spp.)
Other very rare single flower honey plants: (Arctium minus, Asparagus acutifolius, Centaurea solstitialis, Cichorium intybus, Diplotaxis, Odontites, Trifolium pratense, Viburnum, Vicia)
Marks of Quality (complete list):
To help select and evaluate honey, each region’s honey is shown with any quality marks it may have received. Please note that many delicious and unique honeys may not have an official mark of quality, but are certainly worth consideration. Particularly noteworthy honeys (in Honey Traveler’s opinion) are marked as ‘exceptional’
PDO -Protected Designation of Origin:
Certified by the EU to be produced in a given geographical area using recognized know-how. Other EU designations are PGI (protected geographical indication) and TSG (traditional speciality guaranteed) to promote and protect names of quality agricultural products and foodstuffs.
PAT – Prodotti Agroalimentari Tradizionali:
Created to recognize artisanal small-scale agri-food systems which, fortunately, still characterize the Italian landscape, and are an invaluable culinary field (and not yet recognized by the European Union designations of quality; PDO, IGP, TSG). These food products are recognized by the Italian Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Forestry in cooperation with the regions, when they meet standards of production and traditional methods for a period of 25 years or more.
PAT – Honey certified as a Traditional Italian Food.
Slow Foods, Arc of Taste:
The Ark of Taste travels the world collecting small-scale quality productions threatened by industrial agriculture, environmental degradation and homogenization. It searches out, catalogs and describes forgotten flavors from all around the planet: products at risk of extinction but surviving, that could be rediscovered and returned to the market. Several unique honeys have been identified.
Honey identified and cataloged by the Arc of Taste (Slow Foods)Italy Honey
- Best Honey in Italy and the Mediterranian – Winners Announced September 19, 2010 The results are in from the national competition, “Roberto Franci” promoted by the “Honey Week” festival in Montalcino, Italy, that ran from September 10 to 12, 2010.
- Taking The Honey Cure In Italy August 17, 2010 Italy is home to a wide variety of high quality, certified honeys. We visit a store in Milan to discover why the consumption of honey is relatively low among Italians, and of course to try some great honey.
Resources/ Further Reading:
The Ambassadors of Honey in Italy – Italian – Ambasciatori Mieli Italia
Search for Farms Selling Honey, by Province – Italian – Agriculutural Education Online
Honey News of Italy Food News – Honey
CRA-API (Italy): Research Unit of Apiculture and Sericulture of the Council for Research and Experimentation in Agriculture – Focused on research and services for beekeeping and silk worm farming. Formed from the former National Institute of Apiculture (INA – est. 1931) and the form Experimental Sericulture Station (est. 1871)
Italian Government Tourist Board A great resource for planning travel to all regions of Italy.
Life in Italy Current information of Italy of interest to travelers, expats and Italian-Americans. Regional information is summarized and broken out by destination within the region.
Italian & English Version – Italy Tourism Useful informational and travel guide of Italy: All regions, cities and towns.