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Jan. 23, 2023

How To Taste Honey with Marina Marchese (S5, E32)

How To Taste Honey with Marina Marchese (S5, E32)

Returning to the podcast in this episode is Marina Marchese. Marina is back from a recent trip to Italy taking advanced courses from the Food Institute there in both learning, and teaching the skills necessary to claim the title of Connoisseur. Marina...


Returning to the podcast in this episode is Marina Marchese. Marina is back from a recent trip to Italy taking advanced courses from the Food Institute there in both learning, and teaching the skills necessary to claim the title of Connoisseur.

Marina is in charge of The American Honey Tasting Society, an organization designed to teach people the intricate skills necessary to become a honey connoisseur. She is also a Member Italian Register of Experts in the Sensory Analysis of Honey.

Marina and Kim Flottum published The Honey Connoisseur book looking at the major honey plants of the world, plus an introduction to Marina’s Honey Tasting Wheel, a tool used to describe, and define the intricate flavors of the honeys of the world.

Tasting and experiencing the differences in honeys is a learned skill, something all of us can do, with just a little practice and technique. As a beekeeper, you should know how to describe the taste of your honey – whether you sell it to the local packer, the farm market or on a stand in front of your house.

Listen today! What’s your favorite honey taste like?

We hope you enjoy the episode. Leave comments and questions in the Comments Section of the episode's website.

Thank you for listening!

Links and websites mentioned in this podcast: 

Honey Bee Obscura

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This episode is brought to you by Global PattiesGlobal PattiesGlobal offers a variety of standard and custom patties. Visit them today at http://globalpatties.com and let them know you appreciate them sponsoring this episode! 

We welcome Betterbee as sponsor of today's episode. Betterbee’s mission is to support every beekeeper with excellent customer BetterBeeservice, continued education and quality equipment. From their colorful and informative catalog to their support of beekeeper educational activities, including this podcast series, Betterbee truly is Beekeepers Serving Beekeepers. See for yourself at www.betterbee.com

Thanks to Strong Microbials for their support of Beekeeping TodayStrong Microbials Podcast. Find out more about heir line of probiotics in our Season 3, Episode 12 episode and from their website: https://www.strongmicrobials.com

Thanks for Northern Bee Books for their support. Northern Bee Books is the publisher of bee books available worldwide from their website or from Amazon and bookstores everywhere. They are also the publishers of The Beekeepers Quarterly and Natural Bee Husbandry.

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We hope you enjoy this podcast and welcome your questions and comments in the show notes of this episode or: questions@beekeepingtodaypodcast.com

Thanks to Bee Culture, the Magazine of American Beekeeping, for their support of The Beekeeping Today Podcast. Available in print and digital at www.beeculture.com

Bee Culture Magazine

Thank you for listening! 

Podcast music: Be Strong by Young Presidents; Epilogue by Musicalman; Walking in Paris by Studio Le Bus; A Fresh New Start by Pete Morse; Original guitar background instrumental by Jeff Ott

Beekeeping Today Podcast is an audio production of Growing Planet Media, LLC

Copyright © 2023 by Growing Planet Media, LLC

Growing Planet Media, LLC

Transcript

S5, E32 – How To Taste Honey with Marina Marchese

[music]

Jeff Ott: Welcome to Beekeeping Today Podcast presented by Bee Culture. Beekeeping Today Podcast is your source for beekeeping news, information, and entertainment. I'm Jeff Ott.

Kim Flottum: I'm Kim Flottum.

Global Patties: Hey, Jeff, and Kim. Today's sponsor is Global Patties. They're a family-operated business that manufactures protein supplement patties for honeybees. It's a good time to think about honeybee nutrition. Feeding your hives protein supplement patties will ensure that they produce strong and healthy colonies by increasing brood production and overall honey flow. Now is a great time to consider what type of patty is right for your area and your honeybees. Global offers a variety of standard patties as well as custom patties to meet your needs. No matter where you are, Global is ready to serve you out of their manufacturing plants in Airdrie, Alberta, and in Butte, Montana, or from distribution depots across the continent. Visit them today at www.globalpatties.com.

Jeff: Thanks, Sherry, and thank you Global Patties. Each week we get to talk about how much we appreciate our sponsor support, and we know you'd rather we get right to talking about beekeeping. However, our great sponsors are critical to help making all of this happen, from the transcripts, the hosting fees, the software, the hardware, the microphones, the subscriptions, the recorders, they enable each episode. With that, thanks to Bee Culture Magazine for continuing their presenting sponsorship of this podcast. Bee Culture's been the magazine for American beekeeping since 1873. Subscribe to Bee Culture today.

Hey everybody, thanks for joining us. We're really happy you're here. Before we get started, just a quick reminder to subscribe or follow Beekeeping Today Podcast and give us a five-star rating. It really does help. Also, we are now adding complete transcripts of each episode on the website after the show notes. Check them out. You can also leave questions and comments online under each show. You can leave a comment, ask a question, reply to a question, our show listeners. Click on 'leave a comment' at the top of the episode's show notes to join the discussion.

Have you listened to an episode and thought, "That person sounds really interesting, I'd like to know more about them"? Now you can. Each episode links to a guest profile. Each profile has a guest photo, bio, contact information, including Instagram and Twitter details if they have them. Check it out. Finally, share the podcast with your beekeeping friends, email them links or mention it at your next beekeeper meeting. Hey everybody, thanks again for joining us. A little treat today, sitting here in the beekeeping Today Studios is Kim Flottum. Hey, Kim, welcome to the opening of Beekeeping Today Podcast.

Kim: Oh, it's good to be here again. I like Thursday mornings a lot.

Jeff: [chuckles] That's right. There's been a lot of good news for beekeepers to start off the year. First of all, what we had on the podcast, it's making the rounds, especially in all the national media, is the vaccine for American foulbrood. That is big news.

Kim: Let me put it this way, that news has gotten more attention than anything you can possibly believe. Back a few years ago when colony collapse disorder, when that phrase became popular, that got a lot of attention.

Jeff: A negative way.

Kim: It got a lot of attention in terms of, from a beekeeper's perspective bad, and from the rest of the world, looking at what beekeepers were going through, it was even worse. We're all going to starve according to what was going on then. The folks that have come up with this vaccine for American Foulbrood, I have seen more attention to that particular story published in more countries and in more media than anything that I've seen in bees in 50 years.

Jeff: Just this morning I heard something on NPR about coming up on a special science report new vaccine for honeybees. It's making its rounds. I would encourage our listeners to take a listen to our discussion with Dr. Keith Delaplane from the first of this month of January to refresh yourself on the vaccine for honeybees, and so that way you can talk to your friends, neighbors, and anybody else about, "Hey, what's going on about that vaccine for honeybees? How do they get that needle in those tiny little legs?"

[laughter]

Kim: The good thing about talking to Keith on this is that he doesn't put a lot of hyper relay in it.

Jeff: That's right.

Kim: It's his people and his bees that the research is being done on. He's working with them, but the researchers there come to his lab and work with his people, and he's right on top of looking at the results. I've read a lot of these stories, and you'd think this stuff was going to save the world from climate change or something. Keith's got his both feet on the ground on this, and it was good to get it from someone who isn't excited, but fact-based.

Jeff: One of the other hot topics in the news these days and starting to make rounds is discussions about Tropilaelaps. That's another mic that's on the horizon for those of us in the States, but a reality for other beekeepers in Southeast Asia. That's a nasty one.

Kim: Remember the last time we had Sammy on?

Jeff: Yes.

Kim: He was over there doing the research on that particular creature, and he pretty much shared with us what they're doing over there for that. A lot of it doesn't involve poison.

Jeff: A lot of it was using formic acid, wasn't it?

Kim: And brood break. The one thing I want to mention also, Jeff, is there's been a lot of attention to, I'm going to use this term loosely, climate change and beekeeping. What's going to happen to bees and beekeeping and beekeepers as the weather we experience every day begins to evolve towards perhaps a warmer climate and is it going to affect bees and beekeepers and beekeeping? I got six months of research sitting here following this, the good, the bad, and the ugly, and the not-so-bad. On our webpage, we get a blog.

There'll be regular contributions to that blog, looking at every aspect of what is going on in every part of the world, including all of the states. If you're wondering what's going to be down the road two, three, five years from now, tune in and check this out because there's some good things going on and there are some things that are going to be really, really bad if it doesn't change.

Jeff: All right, Kim, let's get on with our discussion with Marina. First, a quick word from our friends at Strong Microbials.

[music]

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SuperDFM Honeybee is an all-natural probiotic supplement for your honeybees. Find it at strongmicrobials.com or at Fine Bee supply stores everywhere.

Jeff: While you're at the Strong Microbial site, make sure you click on and subscribe to The Hive, their regular newsletter full of interesting beekeeping facts and product updates. Hey everybody, welcome back to the show. Sitting across the virtual super table right now is Marina Marchese. Marina, welcome back to the show.

Marina Marchese: Thank you for having me.

Kim: It's good to see you again, Marina. It's been quite a while. I guess to get started with this-- first off, like I said, it's good seeing you again. I know you've been busy and it looks like you're getting busier, but let's back up a half a step for the people who haven't listened to you before, and give us a real brief background of the American Honey Tasting Society and your role in it and what you've been up to lately.

Marina: Great to see you, Kim, and Jeff. Thanks for having me back. Basically, the American Honey Tasting Society is an organization that I started. It's educational-based on teaching beekeepers and culinary professionals about honey and basically to teach them how to talk about it, how to taste it. We also teach a little bit about defects and what constitutes good quality honey. This is something that I started after I did my training in Italy. There are those of you don't know, there's a honey school in Italy that I went to, and I wrote a little bit about it in Bee Culture Magazine a few years back, and we've talked about it before.

Basically, we're teaching beekeepers how to produce a better product and elevate honey.

Kim: That's part of teaching beekeepers how to produce a better product. The connoisseur part of this, it sounds to me and I'm guessing people are thinking it's much being a wine connoisseur, what's good and what's not, or why?

Marina: Yes, early on as a new beekeeper, I was very fascinated with all of the different varietals of honey, all of the different botanical sources. I was searching for a database as a new beekeeper to help me to understand my honey and all the honey that I was collecting from all the different beekeepers that I was meeting and honey gifts and just traveling. Like most beekeepers, I had a collection of honey and I was just so fascinated with the colors and the flavors. I was looking for some kind of a database that would help me to understand if my bees are visiting clover, my honey should look and smell and taste a certain way, or my bees are working on buck-weed or linden.

There really was no information to help a new beekeeper. I basically stumbled upon this program in Italy where they basically treat honey like a fine wine. Anybody who has been to a wine tasting or read about wine and enjoys drinking wine or even any artisan food, chocolate, or olive oil, they realize that there's a whole program dedicated to studying and talking and tasting wine. Italy had really developed this similar program. We see that honey parallels wine in all of those different ways where the environment is going to change the sensory characteristics.

Kim: Just to bring listeners up to date, you and I put our heads together back here a few years ago and produced a book called The Honey Connoisseur. Your role in it was defining how honey tasted and you came up with your honey casing wheel, which is in that book. My contribution was mostly in terms of the plants that you were looking at, the bees were visiting. I took care of the source and you took care of the end product.

The part that I enjoyed of that the most certainly was the fact that you just mentioned if I'm tasting clover honey, it should look and taste like this. If I plant clover in Ohio and I plant clover in California and I plant clover in New England where the soil's very acidic, where the soil's very basic, the clover honey in New England may be and probably is going to be somewhat, it may be significantly different than the clover honey from the same plant collected in the Midwest or on the West Coast. That's a nice little bit of being a connoisseur. Can you explain that?

Marina: Yes, definitely. I was so honored to work with you and have you provide all of the information on the botanical sources that bees are making honey from. I think it's a really very important part of the whole picture. We really planted the seeds with that book of getting people to really look at honey in a different way, to really elevate it and to have them taste it, and to really pay attention that it will change depending upon the botanical source and where that botanical source is growing. That was really an exciting project and I think people are still buying the book.

There are still some readers that contact me that have just stumbled upon the book and they're very excited about this idea about tasting honey and trying to pick out the flavors and the smells and comparing the honeys that they collect. Because beekeepers basically collect honey. Everybody has some honey collection. It's trying to plant the seeds to make sense of your honey and all of these botanical sources that are available for bees.

Kim: That's another dimension to being a beekeeper. To me, it's one that I really enjoy, it's not very hard and it tastes good, let's put it that way. [laughs]

Marina: Exactly.

[laughter]

Now we're starting to see beekeepers become very interested in honey more as an artisan food rather than a commodity of beekeeping. I think there's an excitement that's happening now about exploring all of these flavors and all these botanical sources and where they come from. Even not only just in the US but around the world, we're seeing that there are so many different kinds of honeys with different profiles. There's always a mixture. It may never be a pure single-origin honey, there can be a little bit of something else in it.

Kim: That brings up another question and that question is, have you seen the new advertisements for the honey that's made without bees? It's an enzyme produced with sugar syrup. I'm not exactly sure of the process. Have you been able, A, to taste it and if you have, what does it taste like?

Marina: I actually have heard about them, there's a few different, and they contacted me to work with them, but I didn't really have time in my schedule. I haven't tasted it, and I am curious. I don't know the recipe, I don't know the secret behind what their product is. I know there are some quite a few different ones on the market, but there's one now that I've seen in the news all the time, but it's on my bucket list of something to taste.

Kim: I'm going to be interested in getting some of that also, and the other half of that question then of course is the recent-- not too recent, ongoing problems with contaminated adulterated honey. Most of it's foreign. Can you tell when you're tasting an adulterated honey?

Marina: Do I have to tell the truth?

[laughter]

I'm honest. I'm just going to say, a lot of times when I taste honey that's generally in a plastic bottle that has been imported, I do taste the defect that we call metallic and it tastes like iron, rusty metal. It very well could be that honey that is shipped in those metal drums can come in contact with rust or something rusty or the tools, how it's being harvested. I do find that the metallic note of defect is pretty apparent across the board. When I'm ever at a coffee shop and they have the little fixing bar with the milk and the sugar and all the honey, there's always a honey bottle there. I'm curious, so I go and taste it, and usually, those are the ones that have that off flavor that for me personally, it's very off-putting.

I don't know if the consumer really realizes that. I could tell you that I talk to a lot of people about honey and every once in a while I come across somebody that says, "I do not like honey, I don't want to taste it." If I'm near some good quality honey, beekeeper honey, and I let them taste it, 9 out of 10 times, their face will light up and they'll say, "Wow, that's really good. I never knew I liked honey." My next question to them is, "What kind of honey had you tasted in the past that you didn't like?"

Their answer is always the same, "Oh, I got it in the grocery store in the big box store, and it was not really beekeepers' homemade honey," but then sometimes once in a blue moon, I'll come across somebody that they won't even taste the honey. They say, "I don't like honey, I don't want to taste it." They just for some reason don't like honey. I haven't figured that out, but it's pretty easy to convert people into honey lovers if you can get them the real thing, like a good quality fresh product.

Jeff: Being a honey connoisseur, and we're talking about taste now, is taste an inherent ability, or is it a learned trait? I've always been told, or I've always thought, I have a terrible palate, I can't taste differences. The other people say, "Oh man, you can't taste it?" I say, "No, I can't." Is taste learned, or is it genetic?

Marina: I think it's a little bit of both. Generally, you can learn to become a good taster. The real secret behind being a good taster is having some training where somebody's working with you, which we do in the class, we give you different smell exercises, but the secret really to being a good taster, and I'm telling you my secret is it's the memory, it's having a good memory. If I blindfolded you and I gave you an apple and a banana and you took a bite of it and you didn't see them, I think you would know the difference between an apple and a banana.

Basically, it's your memory, you've eaten a banana, you've eaten an apple 1,000 times. You remember what the smell is, you remember what the texture is when you chew it, the sound of the crunchy apple, whereas a banana is more soft and mushy. Having a good memory and developing that through training, through sensory training, through these classes that we're doing can help you to become a better taster. Of course, you're working against yourself. Whatever your baseline is, you can always improve what you have. Of course, I think there are certain people that are a little bit better, a little sharper.

Obviously having a stuffy nose or a cold makes it very difficult, but be able to identify different kinds of smells and flavors, having allergies like I do myself. I have to really watch that. It makes it tough sometimes, but it's really developing your memory.

Jeff: I'll hold out hope that my palate will improve from the years of growing up in the Midwest with overcooked beef and potatoes for dinner every day.

Kim: [laughs]

Marina: That's a challenge. I think if you wanted to work with me or if you wanted to do the class, you can definitely improve. What's the benefit not only of improving and sharpening your senses is once you start being able to identify different flavors. You start to become a better cook because you start picking out different flavors and ingredients and mixing them together. Of course, you're going to be mixing different honeys. You may have a couple of different honeys that you want to mix with different foods or pair with cheeses. You enjoy your food better too because you're tasting and really savoring and enjoying it.

Jeff: There's hope. Let's take this quick break for a word from one of our sponsors.

[music]

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Kim: Jeff, two things. One is, even if you have an untrained palate, like I do, getting a hold of the tasting wheel that is in Marina's book, you'll look at all the different flavors that start. There's metallic and acid and there's all sorts of them. Then you go, "Oh yes, okay, I can taste that." Then you break it down a little bit further and a little bit further and you end up with a flavor. The other part of that equation is that I wonder if the honey is produced by those people who are feeding bananas to their bees is going to be changed.

[laughter]

Marina: Oh, there was a honey on one of the judging panels that I was on. The beekeeper was feeding the bees chocolate sugar water, hoping to get chocolate honey. I don't think it came out very well. That might be bee abuse.

[laughing]

Kim: Marina, you're talking about teaching people and I know that you just returned from a teaching experience. Tell us a little bit about that.

Marina: I just came back from Bologna, Italy, where I studied. It's the city where the Beekeeping Institute is located in Italy. That's where they really started and continue doing these honey educational classes. I was honored to be invited to co-teach with two of my teachers there. Raffaele Dall'Olio, and Gian Luigi Marcazza, who were some of my first teachers and some of the best honey tasters in the world. They were doing an English-speaking class. Now in Italy, they're doing English language, I should say classes. I was invited to co-teach with them for five days.

It was a great experience for me to meet all of the students coming from around the world. Literally, people came from Asia, Saudi Arabia, we had London, we had South Africa, we had two people from the US. We have two new honey tasters on our growing list here in the US. It was really great experience for me to spend time with everybody and to teach, land to earn, and to meet and to hear about their beekeeping practices. They of course brought samples of their honey from their country or from their own aviary. We got to taste different honeys of their production. I was really just very honored to be part of that.

Jeff: That class was just on honey tasting?

Marina: Yes, It's four days of basically, we teach the students how to sharpen their senses through various sensory exercises. We have a lot of taste and smell exercises that are self-challenging. This basically serves to help you with your memory, but also sharpen your senses and to help you identify. For example, we have little cups with smells in them. There might be cups with rosemary in it, or cinnamon or lemons. Basically, the challenge is to smell them and to identify them, and to describe them. This helps you to really sharpen up your senses.

Then we learn the process of tasting honey. How to look, smell, and then taste, and then describe all of those sensory characteristics. How to write notes about the honey. Also, we learn and taste different defects for them to really become aware of different things that can happen to honey along the process of harvesting, extracting, bottling, storing honey. It's a very well-rounded program. It's not just really tasting. It's really a whole education around honey and handling honey, and what you're looking for.

Jeff: Are there different levels of series or sommeliers like they do in wine?

Marina: There's basically different levels of the class. The first class, which we just did in Bologna was a four-day. It's a four or five-day. That's the first class. Those students and everybody after they take that first class, they're so excited, they want to take the second level class. You're required to wait four months, and then you can apply to take the second level class, which must be taken in Bologna, Italy because that's the center where they have the institute. They'll take the second level, and that's called a refresher.

Then there's a third class that you can take, which is also three days, and it must also be taken in Bologna, Italy. After the class, the third class, there's an oral and a written exam. Believe it or not, really honey school. What the challenge is for the oral exam is when you're there, you're learning 18 different honeys from 18 different botanical sources. In that period of time that you're taking these classes, you really need to be studying and keeping your senses sharp. Basically, you have to blind taste and smell 18 honeys, and then identify them.

It sounds crazy, but look, we do it with wine and olive oil and chocolate and tea. Practicing and learning how to describe them and identifying them. You can do it. You have this test and after you pass the test, if you don't pass, I guess you can take it again in a couple of months. If you pass the test, then you can actually make an application to join the Registers. In Italy, they have a register, which is essentially a list of people who have taken the classes, passed the final exam. You become part of this group of people that are honey sensory experts, trained in Italy.

Once you become a member of that, then you're required to teach and stay involved with honey because it's like a bicycle. If you don't practice and you don't continue being engaged, practicing your senses, and learning about honey, you could really get very rusty very quickly. You're required to maintain your membership with the Register by teaching different classes, participating in their national honey-judging programs. They have refresher courses online, in person. It's a little bit of work to stay current with your membership, but I enjoy it because I like to connect back with my roots and the people that are doing all of this amazing work.

Jeff: When you started talking about the oral exam, I was thinking, you have to answer a lot of questions before a panel but you literally meant oral exam where you're tasting the different honeys. It was a mental shift. If you heard a noise, that was my brain doing a shift in the middle of what you're talking. It's also a big commitment. If a person wants to do this and become a honey connoisseur or the sommelier, or the official taster, the time commitment and travel to Italy, you have to really want to do it.

Marina: Exactly. It is a commitment to do it. I think if you're interested in this and you take the first class, the first level, basically in the first level, you learn everything. Then it's really up to you to continue studying and practicing, and working on your own. If you really feel strongly that you want to continue to do this, and I can certainly see why people would like to do that, especially if they have their own honey business, it really helps with marketing. They can do their own honey tastings with their customers, and they can do them at their apiary and their honey house. They can really get out there and start educating the public.

Honestly, the problem is, is that if you do all of this work and this commitment, there's really no jobs as a honey sommelier. I do a lot of teaching. I do sometimes taste honey for beekeepers. They'll ask me to taste honey and I'm happy to do that, and I will provide them with my personal tasting notes. Whatever I taste, floral, earthy, woody. Really, I want to help them because it helps them to market their honey, and it helps to market good quality beekeepers' honey produced in the US. Hopefully, by educating the beekeeper, they're going to educate the customer.

Ultimately the customer, the consumer's going to make a better choice and start becoming aware that there's a big difference between beekeepers' honey, and maybe commercial imported honey. There's really not a lot of work outside of teaching, but certainly, beekeepers can be teaching at their own aviary.

Kim: I can also see where it would prove valuable in tasting your own honey to see if you had screwed it up, you'd overheated it at all. A lot of people just take a taste of honey and you move on. If you're looking at it closely like you do, you may pick up some fault that you can learn from and avoid in the future. You said you teach people, how can I in the United States take a class like this?

Marina: I will be doing classes again with Atlas Obscura online, and we're trying to get together to do a four-day class here in Connecticut again with one of the experts from Italy. There's a lot of logistics and planning, but that's something that will be announced in The American Honey Tasting Society newsletter, and also it'll be on social media, it'll be on the website. When we can get that together with travel and everything, that will be announced. Otherwise, most people are going to Italy right now, or they're doing some of the online classes that I'm teaching.

Jeff: Would that class in Connecticut count for the first trip to Italy?

Marina: Yes, that's a great question, and it would be because we would have one of the experts here from Italy overseeing everything, and also they would allow that the students that come to these classes. We've done them before COVID where the students came here-- we actually had students from all over the world. We had quite a few from the US and Canada, but those students we did 25 and 25 in groups, and we were able to give them the first-level certification. Now a good handful of them have gone to Italy to finish their second level.

Things got slowed down from COVID. Also, there's a limit because most of the classes they're doing are not in English language, so it's been a little bit slow for people to get full certification. Honestly, this whole program is very, very new. I shouldn't say it's new. It's been going on in Italy for 40 years. It's just now that it's being spread through the English language community of beekeepers. Now they're shifting in trying to do more and more classes to accommodate English language speakers around the world.

Jeff: In case anybody wanted to know, you had one of the experts and it was Raffaele with you the last time you were on the show back in October of 2020s. Folks want to look at that show. It'll be linked in the show notes.

Marina: Yes, he was one of my very first teachers. Going back to what you were saying, Kim, about beekeepers figuring out if they screwed up their honey. I have learned a tremendous amount with my own honey. I had just the handling now and learning about what I'm looking at. I've learned a tremendous amount about crystallization and structure. I've learned a lot about water content. I had a situation where my bees had produced honey on deep frames, I should say, which I don't usually harvest.

I had a couple of beautiful, perfectly capped honey on these deep frames. Of course, the deep frames had the metal support wires. I took about four or five frames off of the hive because I really wanted this honey and there was just bursting with honey. I was able to take a few. I stored them in a container, one of those sealed tight plastic containers, those bins. By the time I got around to harvesting the honey, I realized that all of it tasted metallic because it had been sitting in contact with those metal support pins for about five months. I pretty much spoiled all that honey.

That was a lesson learned about harvesting your honey quickly, or not harvesting it with those metal support wires. I've learned a lot and I'm always learning, it never ends. There's always something else to learn. There's always a new honey to taste, a new flower to discover.

Kim: I'm guessing that many of the common problems that beekeepers have like honey with too much moisture, I can measure it with a machine and that's going to give me 22% or whatever. Can you tell honey that has too much moisture just by the taste?

Marina: You could roll it around the glass and you could make a ballpark judgment if it's too runny or if it's low moisture, very viscous. Just by tasting it, I think you would know if it was very runny. You can't really determine what that percentage of water is. I think if it's overly runny you're going to notice that by rolling the container around, you could feel it.

Kim: It's the stuff that's not overly runny, but still too high in moisture. I'm wondering if you get a flavor there.

Marina: It's not going to affect the flavor, it's more about the texture and the viscosity.

Kim: Using too much smoke, I'm going to guess is also going to be--

Marina: Yes, that's one of the things we find newer beekeepers might be a little timid working with their bees and over smoke, or varroa treatments that have those aromatic substance like thyme, and eucalyptus, and camphor. Sometimes that ends up residual in the honey. Having bees make honey on old wax, dirty old brown black wax, not so appealing.

Jeff: Now you're speaking to Kim because he's an anti-old comb guy.

[laughter]

Marina: You got to have that new white comb. It makes a big difference.

Kim: Along these lines, one of the discussions you always hear at beekeeper meetings come up somewhere, is the quality of honey difference between fresh-cut comb honey versus extracted honey, or spun honey, or however you want to say it. As a honey taster, can you taste the difference between honey that you taste when you bite into a piece of comb honey, versus the honey that's been extracted and in a bottle? The argument is the honey that's extracted picks up contaminants that affects the honey.

Marina: Honey in the comb it does have the full flavor if you just bite into it and the aromatics are very, very high. When you're talking about extracted honey that's in a bottle, are you talking about one day old or a year old? Because I think you can tell the difference between honey that's two years old compared to honey that's freshly extracted. Because the aromatics they dissipate, the volatile compounds. Then as honey ages, the color gets darker and that affects it visually.

If you know what you're looking at, especially if you're looking at like a black locust, acacia honey, you're looking for that very light honey. After a couple of years, you definitely see that it gets a little bit darker or if it's mixed with another botanical source. I don't think you can really tell the difference between in the comb and extracted the same day in a jar. Over months, years, you can tell the difference. It really loses flavor and becomes sweeter. You're just getting mostly the sweet or the sour, the bitter.

Jeff: If I was going to develop a collection of tastes, 10 or 12 different kinds of honey, would freezing them preserve the initial aromatics and flavor and all of that? So that I could go to the freezer and pick up this bottle and say, "I know what this is and I know what it should taste like," and it does because it's frozen, or does freezing that slow down that degradation?

Marina: I do freeze honey. I have some certain samples that I like to keep on hand. I use them basically for teaching. If somebody gives me or I get a great honey sample, I freeze them. I freeze them because I'm saving them for teaching samples mostly or if I want to go back and I want to revisit that particular botanical source. I freeze them in glass jars with a lid tight but I can tell you that after about two years, three years, even if that honey is in the refrigerator, I should say I refrigerate them, not freeze them.

Even after a couple of years in the refrigerator with the lid tight, they get freezer burned. Do you know that flavor when bread or something has been in the freezer for too long? It absorbs whatever the smells are in the refrigerator and it just taints it for me. I do freeze and refrigerate honey samples, but I try to use them within a year or two. It does keep them stable. If they're liquid they become crystallized. When they're completely crystallized really nicely homogeneously, that's a very stable state for the honey so it'll stay nice and it won't ferment.

There's really no good way to keep honey for a very long time. It really has to be consumed fresh because it deteriorates on so many different levels over time. So precious and so rare, right?

Kim: [laughs] Unlike those wines that improve with age, honey doesn't, apparently.

Marina: It doesn't improve with age. It's not like wine. It does not get better. Days, weeks, months, it changes. You may not know that but like I said, if you have your little collection of honeys on the shelf, you might see eventually they crystalize, liquid honey crystallizes, and then it's nice and solid and then over a couple of weeks and months, you're going to start to see separation like layers. You get that liquid layer on the top where the glucose starts to separate from the water because glucose is less soluble than the fructose.

You start to see a liquid layer on top of the solid and that liquid layer gets larger and larger. At that point, that water content of that liquid layer is really high and then your honey's going to start to ferment. You've seen that before where there's a liquid layer on top and it separates?

Kim: Never in my honey, Marina. [laughs]

Marina: Y'all have separated honey at some point of our life. It doesn't get better with age. There's just no way around it. Eat your best honey, share it, cook with it.

Kim: There you go. This has been fascinating. I look forward to following your classes this coming year to see what you're going to be up to. I encourage people to watch your webpage and your social media so that if they're interested they can get in touch with you. Hey, what have we missed?

Marina: What have we missed?

Kim: What have we missed?

Marina: It's all going to be on social media [chuckles] anything we talk about. That's the world we live in, right?

Kim: Yes.

Marina: You want to check in, you want to see what people are doing. I'm trying my best to post on social media, keep websites updated. It'll be in the news. It'll be virtual.

Jeff: We'll have your links and contact information in the show notes so if people want to find out any more about the American Honey Tasting Society and anything you're doing in books, they know where to go. Check the show notes.

[music]

Marina: Exactly.

Kim: Thanks, Marina. This has been fun. Welcome back.

Marina: Thank you Kim and great to see you again and Jeff.

Jeff: Thank you. It's always good having Marina on the show. I was joking about my palate being horrible and it is true. I'm trying to improve it. I came from a family who thought fancy ketchup was hot or I did not grow up with a very refined palate. This is all very interesting and educational. I'm glad Marina was on the show.

Kim: I had the same background in diet growing up, but when I was living in Connecticut, I got to know Marina and then after being editor of Bee Culture, we put our heads together and did that book and I learned a lot of tasting and honeys and all of the things involved. It definitely was a eye-opening experience and it was fun. She's fun to work with.

Jeff: I think if you start as a beekeeper, and this is what I've learned and hopefully it's the same for other beekeepers, the more you taste and the more you learn about tasting, what you brought up about tasting problems in the honey will only serve you well as a beekeeper. If it's more than just "Yes, it's honey," you can actually taste whether or not the knife was too hot or you can actually taste the variances between blooms, floral sources, makes you a better beekeeper and more aware of what your bees are doing.

Kim: Absolutely. If you take a look at the book, The Honey Connoisseur, Marina's tasting wheel is in there. Take one look at her tasting wheel and you look at it, there's like 250 flavors. That many or more flavors that honey can have depending on-- the word is "terroir". It's where if I grow alfalfa in Ohio and alfalfa in Connecticut, the honey from alfalfa is going to taste a little bit different because of the acidity of the soil and the environment that it's growing. You have to learn those differences. When you say alfalfa honey, alfalfa from where?

When you're good, she can do this. Even if you're not that good, at least you can tell it's alfalfa and you can tell if it's harvested right, if it was processed right, bottled right, and stored right.

[music]

Jeff: That about wraps it up for this episode. Before we go, I want to encourage our listeners to rate us five stars on Apple Podcasts wherever you download and stream the show. Your vote helps other beekeepers find us quicker. Even better, write a review and let other beekeepers looking for a new podcast know what you like. You can get there directly from our website by clicking on reviews along the top of any webpage. As always, we thank Bee Culture, the magazine for American beekeeping for their continued support of Beekeeping Today Podcast.

We want to thank our regular episode sponsor, Global Patties. Check them out at globalpatties.com. Thanks to Strong Microbials for their support of this podcast. Check out their probiotic line at strongmicrobials.com. We want to thank Betterbee for their longtime support. Check out all their great beekeeping supplies at betterbee.com. Thanks to Northern Bee Books for their support of bee books old, new with Kim Flottum. Check out all of their books at northernbeebooks.co.uk. Finally, and most importantly, we want to thank you theBeekeeping Today Podcast listener for joining us on the show.

Feel free to leave us comments and questions at 'leave a comment' section under each episode on the website. We'd love to hear from you. Thanks a lot, everybody.

[00:47:17] [END OF AUDIO]

 

C. Marina Marchese Profile Photo

C. Marina Marchese

author

Marina is changing the way people think about honey, this designer turned beekeeper is best known as the visionary behind the beloved brand Red Bee Honey. It was a sunny April day that Marina was invited to visit a neighbor’s apiary where her first taste of fresh honey from the beehive would change the course of her life. She quit her job, built a beehive and got her first colony of Italian honeybees to become a full – time beekeeper. It was on a trip to Tuscany to study wine tasting that Marina stumbled upon a honey festival in Montalcino (coincidentally called La Citta del Miele) that inspired her to launch the Red Bee Brand. Marchese returned to Italy three more times to complete her formal training and become the first US citizen to be accepted as a member of the Italian National Register of Experts in the Sensory Analysis of Honey. In 2013, with the guidance of the Italian Register she founded the American Honey Tasting Society to bring their methods of honey educational program to the US.

Marina's best-selling book Honeybee Lessons from an Accidental Beekeeper chronicles her entrepreneurial journey into beekeeping, opening her eyes to the wonders of the natural world of honeybees, pollination and their direct connection to growing food. Her second book, The Honey Connoisseur Selecting, Tasting, and Pairing Honey co-authored with Kim Flottum (editor of Bee Culture Magazine) is the definitive guide to honey. Her third book, Honey for Dummies was coauthored with her mentor Howland Blackiston, author of the best selling book Beekeeping for Dummies. A graduate of The School of Visual Arts in NYC.