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All About Miele: How Honey Is Made

All About Miele: How Honey Is Made

Did you know that one in three bites of the food we eat depends entirely on bees? But these key pollinators don't stop there. They also give us one of nature's greatest gifts: sweet, complex miele, or honey.

At Eataly, we source honey from Mieli Thuna purveyor of nomadic honey based in Trentino Alto-Adige. This family-run company is known for its exquisite monofloral honey: by moving the hives from site to site during peak bloom periods, their bees produce a diverse collection of honey.

We sat down with third-generation apiculturist Andrea Paternoster of Mieli Thun to learn all about how honey is made. Ready to see what all the buzz is about?

Italian honey harvest by Mieli Thun

HOW HONEY IS MADE

The hard work of honeybees is not only essential to healthy ecosystems, but to sustaining animal and human life, too. From apples and squash to buckwheat and coffee, bees are responsible for pollinating most of the fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, and grains that are essential to our diets.

"Bees are not just important, they are fundamental for the ecosystem," says Paternoster. "They are the principal actors when it comes to biodiversity." Although the process is quite complex, there are roughly four basic steps for making honey.

POLLINATION. Bees collect nectar from flowers for energy or as a long-term food supply. While they do this, the bees actually move pollen (the masculine part of the flower) from one plant to another, fertilizing the flowers and playing a crucial role in the production of seeds and fruit.

Mieli Thun honey harvest process

TRANSPORTATION. Bees can hold about 50% of their own weight in nectar, which they bring back to their hive. The bees transfer this raw nectar to the honeycomb cells, working together as a group by passing the nectar from one bee to the next until the product reaches the honeycombs.

EVAPORATIONGenerating body heat and flapping their wings, the bees regulate the hive’s temperature to roughly 95°F to evaporate water from the honey. This process raises sugar concentration and prevents fermentation, allowing the nectar to thicken into sweet, viscous honey.

HARVESTThe bees cap the honeycomb cells with wax to seal in the concentrated honey, which beekeepers can then harvest in spring or autumn. Of course, most responsible apiculturists leave the majority of the honey to the bees themselves. According to Paternoster, "We only harvest about 10% of the honey that the bees produce during the year, and the rest is left to the bees for their winter food supply. It's a question of respect for the bees."

DIFFERENT TYPES OF HONEY

Honey jars are often labeled by the flowers from which they come, although most honey is made from a wide variety of flowers. After all, bees travel from flower to flower as they wish! "Every flower is different in shape, color, and scent – and honey responds to this same logic," says Andrea Paternoster.

Mieli Thun honey jars

Whether it's the supremely sweet acacia honey or the complex and colorful millefiori (wildflower), every honey is unique. At Eataly, you'll find both clear, liquid honey and opaque, crystallized versions as well. "The higher the glucose, the quicker the honey will crystalize. This is a natural process," says Paternoster. While both liquid and crystalized honey are delicious, there is a difference in taste: according to Paternoster, "Crystalized honey is fresher in taste and richer in aroma."

The only way to get honey from one specific flower is through nomadic beekeeping, where beekeepers transport their hives to locations where certain types of flowers bloom. Monofloral honey has at least 40% nectar from a single species of flower. 

HOW TO USE HONEY

"Honey is complex, natural, rich in nutrients, and particularly suited to a healthy diet," says Paternoster. "It can also function as a disinfectant, a conserving agent, and a soothing balm for the respiratory system." In other words: move over, refined sugar!

Crostini Speck Asiago Honey | Eataly Magazine

Aside from mixing into your tea or spreading on toast, Andrea Paternoster has a few cooking tips of his own: try adding some to your sourdough starter, add as a sweetener to marinades or salad dressings, and even drizzle over grilled meat dishes with a touch of aceto balsamico for a sweet-and-sour garnish. Try our recipe for crostini con Asiago, Speck, e miele to get started!

Ready to get a taste? Join us at SERRA d'AUTUNNO to discover our beehive-inspired look for fall and taste our honey-infused dishes, and shop our selection of Italian honey at your local Eataly or online.