This is an article of mine that was published in Italy Magazine earlier this year:
The best honey in Italy comes from the ethereal sounding Lunigiana region. The honey from Lunigiana it is the only honey in Italy to have its reputation legally protected by the European Community. Unaffected by pollution and produced using methods dating back centuries, the honey is particularly pure with a unique flavour.
Lunigiana, a mountain community, is an historical area of Northern Tuscany and Liguria. Woodlands cover the hillsides providing abundant nectar for the bees. The air is clear and unpolluted due to limited industrial development. In Lunigiana, the two most abundant woodland trees, the acacia and the chestnut, are responsible for the distinctive honey of the area. Because these trees flower at different times, the resulting honey is particularly pure with a distinctive flavour. The long flowering season also guarantees that the bees have an excellent source of nectar, keeping the colonies strong and active.
Beekeepers in Lunigiana still adhere to centuries-old traditions to ensure the quality of the honey. The earliest records of bee keeping in the Lunigiana date back to 1508. At that time, the authorities noticed that honey was becoming a lucrative source of income. As a result, they levied a tax on the 331 beehives in the area. Some families kept up to 15 beehives, a significant number in those days. Amazingly, if you compare the locations of bee hives on a medieval map with those on a modern map there is a perfect match. The hives were located in exactly the same valleys and woods five centuries ago as they are today.
Bee keeping became an increasingly important economic activity in Lunigiana. Ancient records list regulations relating to the location of bee colonies, the relocation of swarms, the methods of honey extraction, the producers of honey, the number of hives they maintained, and the quantity of honey produced. Documents dating back to the 18th Century even show how the community protected the hives from thieves. Today, beekeepers still follow these traditional practices, ensuring the quality and unique flavour of the honey from Lunigiana remains unchanged.
In the second half of May, acacia honey is collected. Acacia honey has a delicate, sweet flavour, tasting faintly of vanilla and sugared almonds. A clear, light-coloured honey, it retains its liquid form for a long time.
Chestnut honey is harvested at the end of June and beginning of July. In contrast to acacia honey, it has a strong aroma and flavour, with a slight bitterness that comes from the nectar of the bramble bushes found in the chestnut woods. Chestnut honey is dark in colour with reddish tones and has a long shelf life.
To protect its reputation as the best honey in Italy, the European Union has awarded the acacia and chestnut honey from Lunigiana DOP certification – the only Italian honey to qualify. DOP is the Italian equivalent of ‘Protected Designation of Origin’. This certification describes a huge variety of food that is produced, processed, and prepared in a particular geographical area, using local expertise. Among the best-known examples of DOP food labelling in Italy are the Neapolitan pizza, Parma ham and mozzarella cheese. Today, around 25 producers have registered 1,800 beehives for DOP certification in Lunigiana. Honey from 1,100 of these beehives also carries organic certification.
Only fourteen towns in Lunigiana are authorised to display the DOP certification on the labels of their honey. If you are buying DOP honey from Lunigiana, the label on the jar must not only carry the DOP certification but also the name of the town where it was produced – Aulla, Bagnone, Casola in Lunigiana, Comano, Filattiera, Fivizzano, Fosdinova, Licciana Nardi, Mulazzo, Podenzana, Pontremoli, Tresana, Villafranca in Lunigiana, or Zeri.