Land of milk and honey hidden behind Pope's summer residence

Beekeeper Vincenzo Scaccioni

Not a sound bounced off the smooth white walls and vaulted brick ceiling as a Vatican gardener hunched over a large, empty glass jar. Two other men peered over his shoulder, waiting for the finished product to ooze out, reports the Catholic News Service.

As the thick, dark amber flow rippled into the container, Vincenzo Scaccioni, the head of agricultural operations at the pontifical villa of Castel Gandolfo, said: 'This is a historic moment.' It was historic because it was the year's first honey harvest for the new Pope by the little known, but very busy, papal bees. And it was lucky because there had been a drastic dip in this year's honey production.

'Maybe we'll get three or four kilo (seven to eight pounds), not even,' said the Vatican beekeeper Marco Tullio Cicero, as he peeked into the stainless steel centrifuge that spun the honey from its golden honeycomb. As long as there's a jar for him," the pope, it will be enough, said Scaccioni. 'It's a limited edition,' he said with a smile.

Scaccioni oversees 26 employees who work on the villa's 74 acres of gardens and 62 acres of farmland.

Pope Pius XI expanded the papal farm in 1930, Scaccioni said, in part to 'express the universality and the fullness of the church and countryside,' and to make use of the fertile pastures -- which had been abandoned after the loss of the Papal States in 1870 -- to provide fresh fare for the papal menu.

The villa's workers raise free-range chickens, rabbits, ducks, pheasants and other fowl for meat, calves for veal, cows to provide milk and milk products such as mozzarella, other cheeses and yogurt, and hens for eggs. They also harvest fruit and olive orchards and vineyards, cut hayfields, tend vegetable patches and grow flowers and plants that often are used to decorate the papal apartments and meeting rooms at the Vatican.

FULL STORY Land of milk and honey hidden away behind Poe's summer residence

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