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Monday, July 19, 2010

Thyme Honey from the Balos Lagoon, Crete

On the North-Western side of Crete is the Gramvousa Peninsula, a rocky, dry bit of land that has a dusty (but passable) road that ends at the northern tip of it, surprisingly at a parking lot with a cantena. This, the only road, hugs the Eastern coastline, and the views of both the mountainous interior (Mount Geroskinos) and the deep blue sea, are spectacular. Along the bumpy way you may also encounter goats and see colorful boxes arranged in groups among the mountain herbs. These boxes are beehives; Anastasios Stathakis' beehives. Mr. Stathakis and his family harvest and produce honey from this peninsula, which has an abundance of wild thyme. You can buy his honey at the cantena. In fact the photo of Creten honey on this blog is of Mr. Stathakis' honey.

The label on the honey says "Honey from Thyme from Balos Lagoon." The reason for this is that the only real attraction to make the trip to the end of the Gramvousa Peninsula (buying honey aside) is to hike across and down Mt Geroskinos, single file, to the west side of the peninsula, where you'll find the spectacular, and visually unexpected Balos Lagoon. Imagine a brown and gray landscape with fragrant herbs underfoot, and the sun beating down. The sound of cicadas fills the air, and now and again goat bells break in. You trudge along, following a well worn path. The scenery is much the same for some time. Then you crest a sandy cliff and see a lagoon with brilliant gradations of azure and turquoise far below you, and a beach with the whitest sand. The contrast between the neutral colors of the mountain and the brilliant colors of the sea are breath-taking. And from your vantage point, high on the cliff (there is still a 30 minute hike in front of you to get to the lagoon), you can see past the lagoon to islands off shore and then to the deeper, black-blue waters of the Mediterranean. And to think that in the midst of all this, the bees of the peninsula are busily make honey, and Mr. Stathakis (bless his heart) harvests it.

Mr. Stathakis' honey is a warm, golden color (dare I say honey-colored?). It has nearly no aroma, just a slight smell of sweetness. It is a thin honey that runs easily. It has a smooth and very sweet taste with just a whisper of something herbal, something subtly smokey. Its final taste is delicate, uncomplicated and fleeting. I would not categorize this honey as odd- it tastes like what you expect honey to taste like; The aromatic herbal undertones are subtle and linger only briefly.

I like this honey but was expecting something more dramatic- a fragrant blast of thyme, for instance. After the initial let down, however, I do appreciate the delicate flavor. Although I haven't yet tried it in tea, I suspect it would work well. It wouldn't be my first choice to spread on buttered bread, though,- unless the bread was really nutty, in which case the honey might compliment it nicely without competing with the nuttiness.

Jars of 450 grams are 6 Euros, and those of 900 grams are 12 Euros, available at the cantena.

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