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Sunday, February 2, 2014

Mandarin Italian Honey (Rigoni diAsiago), Calabria, Italy

Barbara, a friend of mine, gave me this honey, which is produced and distributed by Rigoni diAsiago, a family business run by the Rigoni family of Altopiano diAsiago, Italy.

Altopiano diAsiago, Italy
From the Rigoni diAsiago website, the business began over a hundred years ago with Nonna Elisa who, being widowed with nine children, began a beekeeping business with her two eldest sons after WWI. The business was successful and grew, and is still managed by Nonna Elisa's descendents. They have been innovators and trailblazers in the industry; they introduced monofloral honey in 1979 and went organic in the 1990s. To expand their product range, they added organic jams and hazelnut spreads. In addition they have expanded their markets to include the US, a variety of European countries, and recently, Japan. 

The business has come a long way since Nonna Elisa's time. The company owns large organic farm operations in Italy and Bulgaria, and employs 2,000 season fruit-pickers and 200 full timers. But the mission has not changed much: to provide products that are naturally flavorful and retain as much of the original nutritional properties as possible. To this end, they have gone high tech, with laboratories on site that run quality checks at each stage of production. For honey, this means verifying the pollen source of the monofloral honey as well as other aspects of its make up. They are also environmentally aware, using solar energy in their production plants and minimizing water usage by recycling steam.

Calabria, Italy
Rigoni diAsiago produce a range of organic Italian honey including wildflower, acacia, orange blossom, lime, pine, mandarin, chestnut, and forest. Not only is their honey certified organic, but it is also raw, meaning that it is cold pressed rather than heated. This process results in the honey retaining a superior flavor as well as many vitamins, minerals, etc. that are lost if heated.

The most recent addition to their honey line is  Mandarin honey. It is harvested in Calabria, a region in southern Italy (i.e.the toe of Italy). Most of the area is mountainous or hilly, but farmers in Calabria have been growing crops along the lower slopes for centuries. Most notable among these crops are olives, grapes and citrus fruit.

One travel site referred to Calabria as the Caribbean of Europe, complete with stunning beaches, impressive landscapes and an abundance of charm and history. It you are looking for hillside towns, ancient Greek temples and Byzantine churches in a pastoral setting, look no further!

Calabria Citrus
The mandarin orchards that produce this honey are grown on plantations using organic growing methods. Twenty-six bee colonies collect the honey in two thousand hives scattered throughout the orchards, and the honey is harvested from April until May.

The honey is thick. It rolls onto a toothpick in cloudy, sateen sheets of milky yellow, not unlike pulled taffy. It is an incredibly smooth and creamy with only a burst of sweetness at the end. I was expecting the bitterness of citrus that I have tasted in lime honey, but it isn't there. Instead there is a subtle orange blossom perfume, but it is very delicate and fleeting. Given the opaque quality of the honey, I also expected a texture of fine crystals, but it isn't there either. It is as smooth as silk. It lingers momentarily, and then quickly melts.
mandarin honey

This honey is a fine quality honey that could be used in tea, on toast or hot cereal, or in baking. It has an unusual thickness and delicate flavor, however, so might be best eaten straight out of the jar so as to maximize the appreciation of its uniqueness.

 You can buy this honey online or find it in the US at Whole Foods Supermarkets.

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