The Nation’s top honey sommelier—yes, you read that correctly—is asking restaurant chefs, and everyone for that matter, to remove the charming honey bear from their cupboards.
C. Marina Marchese is the first U.S. Citizen to be accepted into the Italian National Register of Experts in the Sensory Analysis of Honey earning her the distinction of Honey Sommelier. She is also the founder of the
American Honey Tasting Society. Marchese wants chefs to treat honey with the same regard and respect they relish upon wine, cheese, or olive oil. Unfortunately, many highly regarded restaurants producing notable, exquisite meals still rely on the cloying sweet “honey” most grocery stores sell in the plastic bears. She wants to change that, one restaurant at a time.
Due to convenience, along with other bulk orders, restaurants count on their honey delivery in giant vats that according to Marchese “are heavily adulterated and should be thrown away.” It can hardly be called honey, therefore, the extent to which the liquid in the containers is often chemically blended or heated, not to mention, the potential it has to taste like the materials in which some are stored. Additionally, as we learn from her book The Honey Connoisseur, what often shows up in those vats or on grocery shelves has been “cut”, blended, or ultra-filtered. There’s also the chance of it fermenting, given the time the vessels may sit or the increase in moisture entering the ingredient. Although fermented everything seems to be the rage today, fermented honey may be the makings for mead and not quite what people are hoping for when yearning for a spoonful of honey for a cup of tea or a glaze. “People say that honey lasts forever but in fact it does not improve with age like a fine wine; its color will grow darker, and its flavors will fade, says Marchese. If it is cheap, manipulated or old, it can also taste metallic…[It] is best consumed young, in season and straight off the comb.”
A longtime designer with a degree from School of Visual Arts, Marchese stumbled into beekeeping over twenty years ago. A visit to a friend’s apiary, and the taste of fresh honey from the hive, quite literary changed the course of her life. She quit her
job, built a beehive, acquired some Italian honeybees, and became a beekeeper. On one particular visit to a honey festival in Montalcino, Italy, considered “The City of Honey,’ Marchese became passionate about the product and the diverse floral sources that determine its color, aroma, and flavor. Compelled by the philosophy of terroir, she studied wine tasting first in order to best transfer those skills to beekeeping and honey. She continued her formal training in Italy where she soon acquired her distinction.
Chefs are busy; it comes with the territory. So, it can be difficult to just get in front of them and their staff, Marchese says. But when she does, she teaches them about beekeeping and high-quality local honey. After a session, she says she sees a tipping point and an excitement from chefs eager to stretch their sense of creativity or the ways in which they use honey in their kitchen. But Marchese knows it is not just about chefs being busy. Like high-quality anything, shifting to the good stuff can be quite expensive. “It starts with education though, and small changes can make a big impact. Maybe it’s a special pairing or glaze or an infusion where the honey is highlighted.” She admits, it’s an extra special coup when a restaurant features it as they would a protein or vegetable. Marchese says she’s particularly impressed with Murray’s Cheese and Chef Frederick Keiffer of Artisan in Southport, Connecticut and their uses of quality honey.
In the courses Marchese conducts, this beekeeper pulls out all the stops. With plates of carefully prepped bites of fruits, cheeses, crackers, jams, curds, and nuts, Marchese walks attendees through a class on par with that of cheese, wine, chocolate, or coffee. Attendees are asked to look closely at color and decipher texture; they’re asked to dip their noses deep into the glass to detect different aromas; and students will be encouraged to warm the glass with their hands to loosen the liquid gold making it easier to spoon, pour, or gulp should the desire arise. From floral or spicy to cheesy, earthy and everything in between, honey tasting students often leave a class not only feeling their senses are sharper but ready to kick the cute plastic bear to the curb.
In the last year, Marchese has traveled more than ever before. In addition to regular visits in around the tri-state, she recently returned from stints as a keynote speaker at conferences in South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, and at the time of print, Marchese had been invited to conduct a course in Poland. In June, she’ll host the first-ever U.S. certification course at her headquarters in Weston, Connecticut. Sponsored by the American Honey Tasting Society, the four-day course culminates in an entry-level certificate of completion, which is a fully accredited step toward the advancement Level I and Level II in Italy.
Marchese has written several books in addition to The Honey Connoisseur, including Honey for Dummies, and Honeybee: Lessons from an Accidental Beekeeper, which is currently in consideration for a film or television adaptation.