Home » Lucia Piana: sensitive to pollen – Barbara Bonomi Romagnoli

Lucia Piana: sensitive to pollen – Barbara Bonomi Romagnoli

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Lucia Piana: sensitive to pollen – Barbara Bonomi Romagnoli
Illustration by Stefano Fabbri

Castel San Pietro Terme, about thirty kilometers from Bologna, is no ordinary town for the world of beekeeping: for more than forty years it has been the seat of the Three Drops of Gold – Great Honeys of Italy competition. Gian Pietro Piana, who had taught pathological anatomy in the veterinary faculty of the University of Milan, moved here in 1903. His son Gaetano became passionate about the study of bees and founded Apicoltura Piana, a company known all over the world for the production of queen bees. The niece Lucia, born in 1956, grew up among bees but did not become a beekeeper.

Indeed, by chance rather than by choice, as she likes to repeat, she found herself dealing with honey quality and pollen analysis. She is one of the leading experts in sensory analysis of honeys and in her laboratory she carries out melissopalinological analyzes, increasingly requested even by those who breed bees as a hobby: she recognizes honeys through organoleptic analysis with the use of the five senses. In her work you can observe the color, smell the smells and taste the aromas, but the consistency to the touch and listening for any signs of fermentation are also important.

“When I finished high school I liked architecture and urban planning, then I saw that there was an interesting course in geography, to access one had to do a two-year course of another subject first. So I chose biology with the idea of ​​continuing with geography ”, she says sipping an American coffee before setting off for lunch. “But in the end I never studied geography”. Today, however, his laboratory revolves all around the mapping of pollen and honey and information concerning them, to be retrieved on paper and digital atlases.

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“In 1977 I was studying at the University of Bologna”, my uncle Giulio, who at the time headed the family business at the time, called me and proposed to work with him, starting with a research on the biometrics of bees, that is the characteristics related to the bred breed, and analyzes to check for the presence of parasites. After his death, I went on with my work and started the company’s honey control laboratory. At the same time, I was experimenting with my graduate thesis on feeding larvae at the National Institute of Beekeeping, with the help of my father for the part in the apiary ”, the place where hives normally gather.

In the meantime we sat down at the Trattoria Romagnola, and it is an event in itself: those who know Lucia well know that they hardly accept invitations to lunch. “Because I like to eat and I find it hard to get back to work”, she laughs. “In the eighties I also managed beehives, so I know the basic actions of beekeeping, but I miss the overall idea of ​​how to manage an apiary. As I always say, bees don’t take a lot of time, but you have to dedicate yourself when they want it, not when it suits you, and I always arrived late, so since the nineties I have concentrated on starting my freelance, even if I have a little regret of not having kept bee families ”. The other regret is not having learned English well, she travels the world with French and Spanish.

Even in his world of pollen, which vary in colors and shapes, there are many languages: under the lens of the microscope Piana recognizes by heart about 500 pollen of Italian botanical species, but he can also identify those of other countries, from Romania to Brazil. At the first doubt, consult her collection or archives, those she has built in paper and digital form, or PalDat, the world‘s largest database of pollen information.

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And from pollen to pollen you can get to intercept even the “fake” honeys: they seem to be produced by bees and instead are built on a table with the addition of syrups or refined sugars. “I am not able to give the exact recipe”, he explains, “but I am sure that they are not nectar or honeydew honeys, because under the microscope I find no trace of pollen or other sediments that normally exist”. The bees, in fact, produce honey by collecting nectar and pollen on the flowers and when they do not have enough they recover the honeydew, a sweet substance that they find on the leaves of trees produced by homoptera, even smaller insects.

In recent years, climate change has had very heavy effects on Italian honey production, in terms of quantity and quality: “Last year, for example, I struggled to find citrus honeys that really corresponded to the characteristics that should have that honey and more and more often I happen to analyze products that could have evaded the controls. Although in Italy we have a very restrictive system, the sophistication of honey is extremely refined. To be sure that a honey is natural, we compare the results of the chemical and pollen analyzes with the results of the organoleptic and sensory analysis. So far, thanks to sensory analysis, we have classified the most common honeys coming from the nectar of a single flower (about twenty) and several rare honeys, and by now we have a good idea of ​​the wildflowers in the different territories “.

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Also thanks to the work of Piana in the mid-eighties a school was born in Italy to convey the thought of Michel Gonnet, a French researcher who in the seventies had developed the first methods of tasting honey. In 1999 a register of experts was created in Italy, unique in the world, who share a lexicon starting from the five senses to describe honeys, to which Piana has contributed.

She is convinced that knowledge can and should grow thanks to collective work: “From a small highly motivated elite we have built a large community. Even novice beekeepers and beekeepers have understood the importance of knowing the product of their bees. It is an open-minded attitude that is very different from the traditional beekeeping world. I became passionate about disclosure in sensory analysis courses not only for the satisfaction of hearing ‘how many things I have learned’, but also because I realize that some notions touch the sensitivity of people with different backgrounds who rework what they feel by opening new ones. ways of knowledge “.

In 2009 she was one of the founders of AMi (Ambassadors and ambassadors of honey), a national cultural association that promotes beekeeping culture, and is one of the animators of the Donne dei Mieli group. “As a grandmother more than a woman,” she points out ironically. “Grandma because honey has been the protagonist of my work since 1981. I think I would have been passionate about anything else, but it just so happened that it was honey and here I am”.

Trattoria Romagnola
Piazza Acquaderni 8, Castel San Pietro Terme (Bologna)

2 noodles €13,44
1 fennel baked in foil €5,10
1 mix of grilled vegetables €4,10
1 coffee sorbet €3,57
1 strawberry with balsamic vinegar €8,50
2 small waters €2,38
2 place settings €4,66

Total € 41.75

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