How many varieties of honey do you know?
A trip to the Mieli Thun honey farm, in the Val di Non
Andrea Paternoster is what you might call a character. He lives in a world of flowers and green fields where peace and quiet reign supreme, interrupted only by the soft buzzing of bees. His life however is far from quiet, indeed, he keeps himself just as busy as his little winged friends.
With keen lively eyes, Andrea has the gift of being able to transmit to his listeners the magic of honey, his passion for hard work and his never-ending search for new, untouched locations from where he might produce new varieties of honey.
We met up with him last spring and we enjoyed a truly memorable day together visiting his honey farm in the Val di Non and tasting his various honeys and meads.
The secrets of pollination
It’s hard to say which was the best part of our visit, as everything is top-quality and incredibly interesting. Visitors are almost hypnotised by their host, whose words lead them into the sweet world of bees, and much more besides. It’s a journey through some of the most intricate mechanisms of nature, the symbiosis between bees and plants, that leads to one of the central points of the visit, pollination.
Yet Andrea manages to explain these things with extreme ease. From monofloral honeys to wildflower varieties, from floral associations to altitude, he tells it all without the pedantry of a professor but rather with the energy of one who has transformed his passion into a way of life.
A visit to the hives
It’s quite a thrilling experience seeing a beehive up close. Getting dressed up for the job is also a lot of fun, with the beekeeping suits and masks. A curious fact, beekeeping suits are often yellow as it seems this colour has a soothing effect on the insects.
Finally, we see Andrea at work with his fantastic “pet bees” as he calls them. We move closer to the hives, taking special care not to make any sudden moves. We watch Andrea as he opens them up and shows us the honey and the beeswax before placing his hand into a knot of bees in search of the queen.
Andrea explains how individual bees are integral parts of a much larger hive, and how the hive itself is the central focus of a bee’s life. For us humans this fact calls for a moment of both meditation and amazement.
Time for a taste
After having been treated to a Trentino breakfast, based on homemade bread, Garda olive oil and honey (very tasty and easily prepared!), the tour continues with the tasting of three varieties of honey: heather, apple tree and linden. Andrea helps us discern the different and characteristic scents and tastes and explains how honey is a lot more than a natural sweetener for cakes and hot drinks, but has a wide range of uses in the kitchen.
The tasting ends with a glass of mead, probably the oldest alcoholic beverage produced by humans. To produce it all you have to do is mix water and honey and wait patiently for fermentation to take place so that the sugars turn into alcohol. The result is a truly unique drink, tangy and dry, which calls to mind the aroma of honey.
Before leaving we visit the shop, itself a feast for the eyes. Here’s where Andrea calls our attention to his palette of honey colours or, as he baptised it, the “mielicromia” (chromatic scale of honey). Of course, we couldn’t leave without buying something: jars of honey, honey-based preserves, pollen and mead. All packed with style and care, perfect to bring home or as a present for a loved one.