'Slightly acidic and fruity, with underlying notes of caramel’. You could be mistaken for thinking that this is the waiter at your favourite restaurant describing a Riesling from the wine list. Well, not exactly- this is also the language of the honey sommelier.
Honey is such a part of our everyday lives that it is often taken for granted. But any beekeeper can tell you it is more than just a sweet syrup smeared on toast. There is a lot you can tell by a honeys flavour profile or scent. The environments the bees have been kept in and the season the honey was harvested in, leave a trace. To the discerning taster, there are also more subtle marks left on a honey. For example, a metallic taste often results from beekeepers using rusty equipment. A smoky flavour can come from a beekeeper applying too much smoke to calm their bees, as they are afraid or inexperienced.
The expert in the ‘sensory attributes of honey’, or honey sommelier, is an authority in the way honeys taste, smell and feel in the mouth. They assist people in understanding the differences and subtleties that arise from different regions, floras and seasons, so they can gain a much deeper appreciation for honey. They work with beekeepers to support them in marketing their produce, by helping to describe a honeys characteristics and flavours. Honey sommeliers are consulted by top chefs to advise on the best honeys for dishes, and they can also detect alterations in honey. As one of the main challenges to beekeepers, this can help with providing quality control and consumer transparency.
This new field is gaining more and more interest due to the explosion of 'foodie' culture around the globe. In addition, people are becoming more conscious about what goes into their bodies. As the honey industry is growing at a CAGR of approximately 10% p.a, and people become increasingly interested in food and what it does to their bodies, they are discovering the diverse world of honey.
Though still a very niche occupation, Honey sommelier courses are becoming more popular, with organizations such as the American Honey Tasting Society and the National Register of Experts in Sensory Analysis of Honey (Albo Nazionale degli Esperti in Analisi Sensoriale del Miele ) offering structured courses. Italy is the epicentre of the honey sommelier universe and people come from around the globe to participate in the Albo Nazionales’ courses offered in Italian and English. For those not able to get to Bologna, online courses are also held by the Association.