A ‘sommelier’ is typically associated with wine - a highly trained and knowledgeable professional normally only found in fine restaurants, who specialises in the service of wine, as well as pairing wine with food.
It follows equally that the term could also refer to an expert in honey, trained to distinguish all the different nuances of flavour, texture and aroma. Melbourne-based Jessica Locarnini is in fact a qualified honey sommelier, and she is the featured guest on episode 97 of the Bees with Ben podcast. Jessica received official certification from the American Honey Tasting Society after completing sensory analysis training in the US - learning to detect hundreds of different aromas and even distinguish the type of flowers from which nectar and pollen were originally collected purely from the honey produced.
On website honeymerchant.com.au, Jess explains that she returned to Australia with an even deeper appreciation for the complex flavours of Australian honey: ‘Australian beekeepers work their magic in a land of extremes filled with challenges like fire, flood and drought while being surrounded by some of the most diverse landscapes and flora on the planet. All this is reflected in the unique and varied flavours of our honey.’ In an interview with goodfood online in 2021, Jess runs through the evaluation process using a wine glass in which has been placed a sample of honey. She first holds it up to the light, then examine the aroma, and finally rolls a small sample round in her mouth. It certainly sounds like she could be talking about wine, as adjectives such as ‘caramel’, ‘camphorous’, ‘spicy’ and ‘medicinal’ start to emerge. In fact, Jess finds many similarities between tasting honey and wine: both have complex aromas and flavours, and honey tasters also use a palette cleanser between samples (in this case, green apple).
‘When you smell honey, it inevitably evokes memory,’ she says.
Locarnini now works with beekeepers to promote the unique character of local honeys, and is dedicated to developing an appreciation for our honeys through tasting, pairing and education. She likes to pair honey with cheese of a similar intensity, one such example being orange blossom honey with goat’s curd. ‘And you can increase the textural experience of a good crumbly cheddar with honey that has crystalised.’
But she is also mindful of the need to conserve our unique Australian environment, and the health of our bees. Jess joins Ben in the studio for this truly fascinating and engaging episode, in which she walks Ben through a ‘live, non-visual honey tasting’ that she reckons could well be a first for a podcast. It will certainly be a revelation for many listeners. Ben describes Jess as, ‘An absolute guru.’ She responds by saying that being a ‘honey sommelier’ is her super power!