Buzzing news for Istria's beekeepers in the past week as the region's honey has been officially recognised as a distinct product tied to its place of origin. In organised cooperation, Croatia and Slovenia have both entered Istrian honey into their list of protected products, paving the way for a joint application to be made to have Istrian honey protected at an EU level. Alongside wine, Istrian prosciutto, Istrian olive oil and, of course, the rare truffles which can be found in Istrian soils, Istrian honey is one of the region's best-known items of produce.
The landscape of Istria is a varied affair, as is its flora and agriculture. This results in Istrian honey having a range of different flavours depending on which part of the region it comes from. The honey produced here also varies greatly dependant on the season, in response to which floras are then active. For example, in north-west Istria, fruit honey and dandelion honey is produced until May. After this, it is common to move the hives in search of acacia and sage. In June the bees will visit chestnut trees before returning to flowers and heather at the end of summer.
Acacias, sage, bay, chestnut, heather, linden, wildflowers and deciduous trees are known to be visited by the bees which make Istrian honey and each plant was detailed in the application for national recognition. The co-operation between Slovenia and Croatia holds a precedent in the registering of Istria olive oil at European level. Istrian olive oil is actually recognised twice by the EU. This is because Istria exists both as a defined region within the boundaries of modern-day Croatia, but also as a traditional region that extends beyond the national border into Slovenia.
The new protection limits production to its distinct point of origin in order to guarantee standards, protect tradition and to shield consumers from counterfeit and lower quality products. It is known that some beekeepers who operate in the region move their colonies outside Istria, to Lika and Gorski Kotor, for periods during the year, in response to the seasonal life of flora. The honey from such endeavours will no longer be permitted to carry the name Istrian honey as the production extends outside the defined area of protection.
Honey production in Istria extends back at least 500 years and today there are over 420 beekeepers operating in Istria county. Between them, they have around 13,500 hives which can produce up to 250-300 tonnes of honey each year, depending on weather conditions. Croatia already has one of its region's beekeeping industries protected at a European level - that which makes Slavonian honey. It looks as though Istrian honey might at some point in the future join them on the EU's list.
Click here to find out what European recognition does for Croatian produce and see all of Croatia's best delicacies which are protected