One of the oldest natural sweeteners is honey. The ancient Greeks knew it as ambrosia, the nectar of the gods. Not only did they enjoy cheesecake steeped in honey; it was also used as an anti-septic to treat wounds. In Egypt, the pharaohs reserved honey for those who were upper class, and jars of honey often were placed in their tombs. Its history is as old as any ingredient – where there are bees there is honey.In Italian households you will usually find a jar of millefiori, or thousand-flower honey which is used in nearly everything. It is the foundation for the nougat candy, torrone, which is a must have at Christmas. A wide array of mono-floral honeys is produced in diverse regions of Italy. These mono-floral honeys are made from a single flower type and taste richly from that source such as the citrus of orange blossoms. There are over 300 varieties of honeys.
Piedmont’s chestnut honey has a slightly bitter taste and it is dark in color but is delicious drizzled on cheese or used in baking. Italians love to dampen their sponge cake before filling it. When making simple syrup to dampen a cake, replace the sugar with honey. Rum and chestnut honey gives a cake unique delicious flavors.
Sardinia since ancient times has produced a fabulous bitter honey-Miele Amaro. It is treat, try it. Miele Amao is popular throughout Italy and the Italian bees make it from the winter blossom of the strawberry tree. On the palate, it is elusively sweet with a bitter after taste and pairs well with cheeses and works great with onions.
The high heat in pasteurizing used to make supermarket brand honey destroys the flavor. Look for raw or filtered honey. Raw honey is straight from the comb to the kitchen. Filtered honey has some of the wax bits and pollen removed but it is full flavored and retains beneficial ingredients destroyed by pasteurization. Store your honey at room temperature. Authentic Italian or mono-floral honeys can be found in specialty stores and at farmers markets.
Recorded on May 28, 2011 using a Flip Video camera.
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