Macchia MediterraneaBy Ilyse Rathet
January 23, 2019
This year we returned to the Tyrrhenian coast where we first fell in love with Paola Pescia’s array of amazing honeys. Each of his honey’s brings to the table a special flora of Tuscany, each one possesses the essence of a particular Tuscan terroir.
And of these honeys – acacia, chestnut, corbezzolo, coriander, and sunflower – perhaps the most evocative of our adventures in Italy, and the allure of the Tyrrhenian coast is the Mediterranean Heather Honey: miele di macchia mediterranea. Opening a jar is just like being there…
The sun-baked herbal smell of coastal plants blends with the distant sea spray and sun-dried air. Evergreen plants like tree heather, scotch broom, bay laurel, and myrtle, cling to hillsides and rocky enclaves. Sunshine glints on the Tyrrhenian sea while on the horizon distant isles of historical fame – Elba, Corsica, and Montecristo – punctuate the waves before they flow to the horizon. In how many moments has this scene repeated itself to us all along the Italian coast from Portovenere to Riomaggiore, from Argentario to Circeo, from Castiglione to Cecina al Mare?
Mediterranean Maqius, called Macchia mediterranea in Italian, is perhaps one of the most evocative groups of plants in Italy. Its mostly springtime flowering blossoms are the food of bees who stockpile the sun-enriched nectar into their hives. On sunny Spring days they gather nectar from the herbal scotch broom, the resinous tree heather and the delicate rosemary. Once these gathered elixirs are brought back to the hexagonal micro-rooms of the hive, the nectars blend and form a rich, thick liquid that echoes the sun on the rocky coast, and captures the first long sun rays of Spring.
Paolo Pescia is the intermediary in this interplay between the macchia and the bees. From his hives he harvests this thick liquid and decants it (which allows some of its water to evaporate), fostering this blend of mixed herbal nectars which become a thick, almost caramelized syrup – miele di macchia mediterranea. A pure concentrate of the place it comes from. An essence of a terroir.
We have tasted this honey over many years. Some years when the Spring was mild and warm, and some that were damp and unkind to the bees. Some years the aroma of wild fennel was the first scent to waft from a freshly opened jar, and other years a more floral note of briskly blooming coastal tree heather first emerged. With every jar, and every year I could close my eyes and remember a hike or drive along that coast, the smell of the macchia coming in through the window. This honey is a mere transformation of the landscape into sugars. The bees are the alchemists and Paolo. Pescia a mago who facilitates the magical transformation of a place into a humble jar