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  • Writer's picture5 Senses CulinaryTours

Working Bees Really Buzz

Updated: Jul 18, 2020

I love it when a flavor stops me in my tracks, my eyes widen, the tongue holds to the roof of my mouth and I savor the moment. That is what happened to me at a wine tasting at Terre Costantino on the slopes of Mt Etna. The cheese board had a small dish of honey to drizzle. But this wasn’t just any honey, it was from the only endemic bee to Sicily, the Black Bee! The raw honey is a spectacular show stopper.

The Black Bees are smaller and darker than common honeybees, and are very renowned for being really docile and easy to handle, in fact it is possible to approach it without much precaution, and beekeepers can work without productive masks. Another of their characteristics is that of being a very productive insect even in very hot periods, when other bees stop being producing; they then develop their brood between December and January and consume less honey than other bees. But their honey keeps the same levels of vitamins in smaller quantities, making their honey one of the richest and intense ever. The honey production of Zafferana Etnea started since 1920 and is well-known all over the Italian territory, for its excellent healing properties and it is also used for the production of great Sicilian desserts such as nougats, “mostaccioli” and “zeppole” sweets.

Back in the 1970’s beekeepers started importing wooden boxes from the mainland but found their bees that had survived for millennial in hives made from Fennel stalks were having difficulties. Beekeepers like Carlo Amodeo, Sebastiano Pulvirenti and Lazzaro Giuseppe are now joined by young farmers like Claudia Cavaliere who are keeping this Sicilian bee from extinction. They believe like many in the “clean cycle of nature,” no pesticides. To ensuring purity they carefully choose isolated places for the hives, trying to find a perfect spot inside national parks or untouched natural reserves around Sicily. Thanks to its several Natural Parks (Sicily has five National Parks and seventy two Regional Protected Reserves), it is a perfect place for a nomad apiculture. The Sicilian black bee has been a Slow Food Presidium for over ten years and has producers in Palermo, Messina and Trapani.

There is a lot to learn about the bees. Their colonies have a great deal in common with us. The worker bees are all females but not capable of reproducing. They do all the work in the hive by controlling most of what goes on inside, which is plenty. Because they work so hard they live only 5 to 7 weeks. A few weeks in the hive and then a handful of days foraging for food, pollen and nectar to feed the hive. Drones, are the males and their sole purpose is to mate with the Queen; they don’t work, don’t make honey and they can’t sting. The Queen only needs to mate once so most are redundant. The well fed Queen Bee lives approximately five years, whereas the average worker bee manages about 40 days. I guess it’s true, it is good to be Queen!

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