Italy is one of the great honey countries of the world! Written Roman references to bee keeping and honey go back thousands of years. It is a tradition that continues today. What is surprising is that Italians, as a whole, are not prodigious eaters of honey. Other countries such as Germany consume two to three times as much honey per person, per year. Yet, it’s not that Italy isn’t still a major source of honey. It is home to over fifty varietals of honey, with some of them certified PDO.
Was it an example of familiarity breeding contempt? I doubted it… wine is a common enough drink in Italy and it is one of the oldest and largest wine producing regions in the world. With some of the great single flower honeys in the world, why wouldn’t it be up there with Germany in consumption?
I hoped to learn more during a recent trip to Italy. My wife and I were were visiting our daughter who had been studying in Milan for the last year and I hoped we would have time to visit the honey shop she’d discovered on the Internet. With honey-addled reasoning I even began thinking this might justify my investment in her far-flung education… Imagine! A whole store dedicated to honey! The only other store totally dedicated to honey I’d visited was at the lively St. Lawrence market in Toronto, Canada, and this was really more of a stall than a store. Nevertheless, it remains one of my great honey tasting experiences of all time! Tasting more than twenty honeys from around the world was amazing… and the sugar buzz wasn’t bad either. What would it be like in Italy I wondered? The ancient home of honey!
Milan is the hip, stylish place you would expect of one of the fashion centers of the world. And there is no better place to experience this than the central area of the city surrounding the impressive Duomo (cathedral). It is filled with people shopping, eating and visiting. It is an experience to simply sit at one of the many street-side cafes, sip a cappuccino, admire the architecture, and watch the throngs of people walk by. Don’t forget to book a seat at La Scala, one of the great opera houses of the world, and join a full house of enthusiasts enjoying the latest production. Tickets are available underground near the Duomo; La Scala is close by.
“Are you ready to visit the honey store?”, my daughter asked while I was visiting her at her apartment.
“Yes! Will we need a cab?”, I asked.
“No, the address is just down the street from here. It should only be a few blocks away.”
The website showed a window full of honey with the name, ‘Honey Store’. It should be easy to find, “Let’s go!”
We left and hopped on a trolley going in our direction. My daughter carefully watched the addresses go by and suddenly announced we should get off.
“I didn’t see the store but it should be close to here”, she said with a puzzled expression.
We got off at the next stop and walked up and down the street but didn’t see anything the looked remotely like the store we’d seen on the Internet.
“Maybe it went out of business?”, I pondered. “Let’s ask someone in one of these stores if they know about it.”, I suggested.
We looked around and saw a small “Drogheria” (drug store?) and walked in.
There was a woman behind the counter talking earnestly to a couple. Behind her and surrounding the small shop were walls lined with old wooden shelves that reached high up to the ceiling. I did a double take as I focused in on the shelves beside me. They were filled with jars of… honey! Realization dawned… we’d found it!
This was confirmed by the proprietor, Simona Dregoni, who spoke excellent English; La Casa del Miele (House of Honey) and the Drogheria were one and the same. “Drogheria” is roughly translated to mean “dry goods store” or “grocery store”. Traditionally selling household goods including non-perishable foods such as spices and oil, they have evolved to become specialty food stores that stand behind their brands and reputation. Simona’s honey and honey products were advertised as ‘certified’. A drogheria has nothing at all to do with a “drugstore!”To make things more confusing Google’s translator program actually often incorrectly translates, Drogheria as “chemist”
With that puzzle explained, my thoughts quickly turned to which honey to try. Yet when I asked Simona for her thoughts on the honey. She began by explaining the health benefits of each honey, pointing to each in turn.
“The Chestnut honey is rich in minerals and good for the circulatory system, fatigue and anemia, the Dandelion honey cleans the liver and keeps it healthy, the Melata (Honeydew) maintains the respiratory system, is good for anemia and a generally good tonic for the elderly, the… “,
“But…” I interrupted, “… which ones do you like best or are rarest?”
While she thought, I contemplated, …maybe not exactly a dry goods store, more like a healthy goods store…?
After a few moments she recommended the Strawberry tree (Corbezzolo) for its rarity and gourmet status, and the Rhododendron (Rododedro), for its sublime flavor. All of the honeys looked thick and rich.
I bought these, and after much discussion, Dandelion (Tarassaco), Macugnaga honey and Honey Dew/ Forest Honey (Melata). All apparently, except for the Macugnaga, single flower honeys, certified authentic and some organic. The dandelion is one of my favorites because of its character and challenging flavor, the strawberry tree honey is uniquely delicious, with an mild sweetness and surprising bitter aftertaste.
And what of the puzzling lack of honey consumption? Traditionally Italians used honey as a folk remedy or for making sweets. As a folk remedy, purity and labeling were very important. Italians value honey, but as a remedy first and a food second. This is changing, and local consumption of honey is increasing as well as marketing to take advantage of their expertise in creating and marketing locally grown foods such as cheese and wine. Each of the honeys I bought were unique in flavor and texture. And while they may cure all that ails you, I am still not cured of my sweet addiction.
For a wide varieties of honey and a knowledgeable, friendly hostess, visit Simona at her historic Grocery – House of Honey in Milan (est. 1929):
Drogheria La casa del miele
Viale Zara, 132 – 20125 Milano (ang. Via Slataper)
Tel./Fax 02 6081477
email@example.com – www.lacasadelmiele.it