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Sunday, October 16, 2011

Miel de Printemps (Spring Honey), Plessis St Jean, France

Plessis St Jean is a community in the Yonne district of Burgundy, about 2 hours south of Paris. The district is named for the river that runs through it, and its capitol is Auxerre. Plessis St Jean is a small, picturesque village in the rolling, countryside of Yonne with about 200 residents. Moriot Joël owns a farm there and also collects and jars his own honey. It is a jar of his Spring Honey that I have.

It is hard to know what flowers are the source of this honey. I tried to research what types of spring flowers there are in the region but came up empty. I suspect that it is a mixture of many different meadow and forest wildflowers. I think honey that is not identified as having a specific source is likely collected from hives that are placed in fields with all sorts of things growing.

The spring honey that I have is cloudy, like a whipped honey. It is somewhat thick but doesn't loop onto a toothpick very well. It breaks off in threads. It has a shiny, glassy, almost oily sheen to it. It is very sweet. In fact, the sweetness overpowers any subtle perfumes it may have, and it stays sweet from beginning to end. Near the very end, though, there is a tiny (tiny) taste of flowers. I may be imagining it; I desperately want this honey to have a hint of spring flowers (!)

Given its even flavor throughout and its powerful sweetness this honey is perfect for baking or in fragrant teas where you don't want the honey to color or overpower the tea flavor. It may be less interesting on its own, on bread or in hot cereal.

M. Joël does not have a website so I suspect you can only find this honey locally.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Miel des Savoies Tilleul (Linden Tree), France

This honey comes to me courtesy of my aunt Stephane (thank you Stephane!). It is Tilleul (Linden tree) honey from the Savoie, Rhône-Alpes region of France, a region I might add, that takes their honey seriously. Don't believe me? Check out the Honey Competition put on by the Syndicat d'Apiculture de la Savoie fondé à Albertville en 1893. The honey goes through rigorous analysis, including chemical analyses. In the most recently posted competition results (2010), 48 judges rated 43 valley honeys and 129 mountain honeys (it is a mountainous region after all) and came to the conclusion that given the exceptional summer they had had, ALL the honeys were of an irreproachable quality and had exceptional taste ("tous les miels présentés étaient d’une qualité irréprochable et d’un goût exceptionnel"). This is the type of competition I like to see: all winners. Well, sort of. In the end they did make further distinctions and gave out gold, silver and bronze medals to those apiarists who were the top of the top. I guess the take home message, though, is that you can't go wrong with a honey from Savoie.

If you'd like more information about the competition and the gold, silver and bronze medalists, here is the link:

But back to the Linden tree honey that I have (which doesn't list the apiarist, so I don't think it was a medalist). Linden trees, as you may know, produce fragrant and nectar-producing flowers, and the honey produced from these flowers has a creamy, pale yellow color (like whipped honey) and a grainy, sweet floral, woody smell. In fact the honey smells a little like Linden flowers. As an aside, Linden flowers are also used for herbal teas. It is a relatively thick honey so you can get a nice twirl of it with a toothpick. The twirl takes a little time to melt in your mouth, but as it is melting it has a mellow, subtle sweetness, followed by a burst of sweetness with a floral undertone. Overall, it isn't a very complicated honey, no unusual, unexpected flavors or radical change in taste as it melts. I think it would be great in baking and in teas, maybe less interesting on hot, buttered toast. In fact, I came across a Linden Honey Apple Pie recipe (that I can't seem to find now) that looks quite nice.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Miel de Sapin (Pine tree honey), Scherwiller, France

We spent a brief visit in Alsace, France this summer, and although not long enough to really explore the region, I had enough time to look for local honey in a small, convenience store in the village of Scherwiller (just north of Colmar and west of Selestat). That is where I found this 'miel de sapin' (pine tree honey). Miel de sapin is one of the specialties of the region. It is used, in fact, to make a traditional gingerbread cake that is eaten at Christmas.

But before I get into the honey, let me tell you how beautiful the region is. We drove down the 'route des vins' (wine road) from Mount St. Odile (a mountain top monastery with incredible views of the surrounding landscape) to Scherwiller (a small town in the verdant wine growing valley). We passed through many small villages along the way, each with the status of 'villages fleuri' (flowered village) and it was easy to see why. Each had timber exposed buildings lining the road with flower boxes full of colorful flowers, mostly geraniums in pinks and reds.

Scherwiller, as mentioned, is in wine country and the small village has a number of 'caves' to visit. It is especially known for its Reisling wine. From Scherwiller you can see the ruins of two medieval castles on the hills above it (Ramstein and the Ortenbourg). They can only be accessed on foot and although I would have loved to hike up to them, we didn't have enough time (my excuse to return to the area!). From what I could see, the vineyards occupied the gentle rolling hills adjacent to the Voges mountains (with some vineyards in town) and the flatter valley plains. The mountains themselves were covered in forests and in these forests were, among other trees, pine trees.

The miel de sapin that I have was produced in the Scherwiller area by Mr. Jean-Luc Schueller. It is a very dark brown honey that is rather thick. It has a subtle malted flavor, is only slightly sweet, and has a brief smoky/herby after taste. Very unusual. I can see how it might be very tasty in gingerbread. I think it would also be quite good in yogurt, tea or just on buttered toast. Eating it right out of the jar works too. Next time I'm back in Alsace, apart from hiking to Ramstein and the Ortenbourg, I know I'll be picking up another jar of this honey (maybe a very large jar).

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Lemon Verbena Honey, The Herb Lyceum at Gilsons Kitchen, Groton, MA

I got this honey at a local farmer's market. The jar isn't anything to write home about. It is small and glass with a white plastic screw top, but the label is quite attractive. It reminds me of arty homemade labels made for homemade jam. It has a delicate border and within it is simply stated "The Herb Lyceum Kitchen, Lemon Verbena Honey" and in smaller font: "The Herb Lyceum at Gilsons, Main Street, Groton, MA."

The Herb Lyceum, according to their website ( is a renovated carriage house on the homestead of the Gilson family that lies within 4 acres of herbs, gardens and flowering trees. It was originally designed as an herbal school for the promotion of useful plants but they have since branched out and offer their beautiful setting and restaurant for retreats, weddings and other small gatherings. Although the gardens and the restaurant are the prime attractions, they also seem to make honey.

The Lemon Verbena honey is a clear golden color, and very thin and runny. No amount of twirling a toothpick in it will get you a twirl of honey. In the honey are nearly candied bits of green herbs, presumably lemon verbena. I was not aware that lemon verbena flowers were a flower source for honey bees and now I'm suspicious that this lemon verbena honey is actually wildflower honey with lemon verbena thrown in. This isn't a bad idea on the surface, given that the herb might diffuse a lemony tang to the honey, but as a purist, I'm somewhat put off. It feels like cheating. The honey, unfortunately, has no lemon verbena taste. Nada. Nil. None. It has, however, an honest, sweat, pure honey flavor. The candied green herbs floating around are difficult to avoid and interfere with the smooth texture. I think this honey would have been better off without the lemon verbena. I suppose that with all good ideas you don't know how good (or bad) they are until you try them. Note to self: next time check for floating herbs in honey before buying.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Creta Honey, Lassithi, Crete

Last summer we had a magical vacation on the island of Crete. Amazing archeological digs to explore, beautiful hidden valleys and plateaus to discover, and beaches, of every variety, to experience. You could spend two weeks just exploring all the beaches, and it would make for a great vacation. I kid you not. Here is a website describing all the beaches of Crete for your armchair traveling pleasure: Our favorite beach was Falsarna because of the never ending waves, perfect for body surfing, but I digress. Back to honey.

A Cretan treat is Greek yogurt with Greek honey, a combination of the slightly sour fresh, creamy yogurt and the sweet of the honey. Just thinking about it takes me back to the island. Driving around Crete you may notice alot of box bee hives, on hills of thyme mostly, but if you look for them you'll see them everyone. Honey is a local product, with a year round production (no real winter in Crete) and given the climate and terrain, most flower sources for Cretan honey come from aromatic herbs. They are famous for their thyme honey. A site dedicated to local Cretan products claims that "bees are fed from bushes that are only grown in Crete." I wish they would say what kind of bushes these were, but I suspect they are thyme.

The honey I have is from the Lassithi plateau, in the central bit of the eastern part of the island. The Lassithi plateau is an unexpected find and quite different from other areas in Crete. High in the mountains (840 meters above sea level) it can only be accessed from eight passes. Driving up through winding roads, ascending into tall, grey mountains and then coming through a pass to see the flat expanse of farmland is truly a wonderful sight. And did I mention the windmills? It took me a while to figure out that they use wind power to irrigate the land. While olive groves are found all over Crete and there are many orange orchards in the western areas of the island, the Lassithi plateau may be unique for having pear and apple orchards, almond trees and fields of other crops that you might not expect to be grown in Crete. The plateau has been inhabited since Minoan times and one of the main attractions is the Dikti cave, one (of three) legendary birthplaces of Zeus on the island.

Because the flower sources are so different, I suspected that Lassithi honey would be quite different from the other honeys of Crete, and I'm right. It is a mellow yellow-brown color with a very slightly cloudy look to it. It is runny but if you swirl a toothpick in it quickly you get a fine twirl of honey. It is a smooth honey that clings to itself. You have to roll it around a little in your mouth for it to dissolve. It has a mellow, soft, brown molasses flavor followed by a sharper sweet taste. There is a very subtle herb flavor but it is not very pronounced, not at all like thyme honey. Would it be too obvious to say that it would be perfect in yogurt? Because, it would be perfect in honey.

Macadamia Blossom honey (Maui, Hawaii)

A friend of mine, Stephanie, visited Hawaii and brought me back this honey a few years back. It comes in a nondescript plastic jar and a square paper label rubber banded around the lid. On the back of the label is a recipe* for honey mustard that seems straight forward enough. I've included the recipe at the end of the blog.

The front of the label says the honey is 100% Maui Macadamia Blossom produced by Tropical Apiary Prods of Maui. I googled them but did not come up with much. They have the beginnings of a website and all I could gather is that they produce macadamia blossom honey, Christmas berry honey and pollen:

The Hawaiian islands are a treasure trove of honey given their exotic flora and tropical weather, and are also well known for their macadamia nut production. Wikipedia's entry on macadamia states that the macadamia nut tree originates in Australia but has since been cultivated in other parts of the world, but not always initially for its nuts (perhaps because only two of the macadamia tree species produce edible fruit- the others produce poisonous nuts). In 1881 William Purvis introduced macadamia trees to Hawaii as a windbreak for sugar cane crops. Gradually, over 40 years, people began to realize that macadamia nuts might be a crop of their own. Ernst Van Tassel founded the first commercial nut operation in Hawaii, Hawaiian Macadamia Nut Company, in 1922 with orchards on Nut Ridge in Honolulu and a processing plant on Puhukaina.

A little known fact is that macadamia nuts are toxic to dogs (so take note), and they are used by law enforcement in drug stings to simulate crack cocaine; macadamia nut powder looks like cocaine in texture and color (might want to take note of this too if knowing how to tell the difference between cocaine and macadamia nut powder might come in handy).

Macadamia blossom honey is runny, dark brown. It is clear, but so dark that if you lift the jar to the light you can't see through it. It doesn't have any fragrance but the first taste is of subtle molasses, rich and warm with a slightly stronger, robust molasses after taste combined with something a little herby. Not too sweet and very satisfying. Good for eating right out of the jar. Perfect for baking a hearty wheat bread or on hot, buttered toast. It is probably not a good choice for a delicate tea.

*Recipe for honey mustard: you microwave 2 tablespoons of honey with 1 tablespoon of mustard together and then use it as a dipping sauce. You can add sesame seeds and sesame oil for a dressing or ketchup for a glaze.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Dandelion (Pissenlit) Honey, Rucher des Framboisiers, Maria, Gaspesie, Canada

Before I got this honey I had no idea there was such as thing as Dandelion Honey. Who would have thought? But I suppose dandelions do have flowers, and where there are flowers there is the potential for honey. And, happily, it is a wonderful honey- one of my favorites. I got this jar in a Provigo supermarket in St. Lambert, Quebec. It is one of many varieties of honey supplied by Rucher des Framboisiers out of Maria in the Gaspésie (North of the most Easterly and Northern part of New Brunswick).

According to their website ( ) Rucher des framboisiers is an organic family business that produces 10 different floral varieties of honey (of which one is dandelion), 4 types of honey wine (mead), pollen, candles, and wax figures. I had no idea there were varieties of mead, either. In case you are curious they produce: Sack mead, Dry mead, Raspberry melomel, and Choke cherry melomel. In fact, one of the varieties of their mead received the silver medal at the "Coupe des Nations 2001"- although they didn't specify which one. I've never tried mead, but now I'm keen!

In addition to all of the honey products that they offer, the gardens from which the honey is collected are open to the public during the summer, and the boutique also offers tastings and educational information about bees, and all things related to honey production. They seem to have a very nice set up; if you ever find yourself in the Gaspésie you might want to check them out.

From their website I also learned what propolis is. It is a brown, sticky resinous substance found in hives produced by bees from the resin of some trees (poplar trees for one). You can chew it and when you do, it has a tingling, numbing effect. It can be found in some creams to treat wounds and skin ailments, and in lozenges/sprays to treat sore throats. It has anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties so it may promote healing and act as an antiseptic. The Rucher des Framboisiers sells propolis by the gram, if you ever want to try it.

Dandelion honey has the same golden mustard yellow color as sunflower honey, but clear rather than opaque. It has a heady floral aroma reminiscent of dandelions.It is a rich, warm, mellow honey, a little on the sweet side, with a pure, simple, uncomplicated honey taste, and a very subtle after taste of what I can only describe as dandelions. Very satisfying. Perfect on hot, buttered toast, in tea, hot cereal and for baking.

The Rucher des Framboisiers are located at 1059 Dimrock Creek, Maria, Quebéc, Canada.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Miel de Romarin, La Maison des Abeilles, Villechauve, France

On vacation in France in the Loire region we can across a large roadside sign promoting visiting "La Maison des Abeilles" (the house of the bees). I couldn't resist. La Maison des Abeilles is actually a series of small buildings-including a cluster of hive shaped ones, nestled next to the road. At the main entrance, which is also the entrance to the small, but well stocked, store containing various honeys and honey products, you can buy a ticket for a tour. The store, the ticketing and the tour are run by the owner and apiarist himself. He is a man with a mission to educate and promote bees and honey.

The cluster of hive shaped buildings is where the tour happens. From posters and artifacts you learn about the history of harvesting honey and the complicated (and fascinating) life of bees. In another section, the apiarist demonstrates how honey is harvested by taking a comb of honey and spinning it down (questions and tasting are encouraged). In the final section the center of the room is taken up with a glassed-in hive that has access to the outside. You can enter the hive via a door. You can see the honey bees coming and going and the apiarist enters to show you how he handles bees. He points out pollen on the legs of the bees, and also the difference between the queen and the others. All together it takes about an hour and a half and worth every minute.

If you'd like more information about La Maison des Abeilles:

In the store after I bought a jar of rosemary honey (miel de romarin). It has been sitting in my pantry for a while so it is now cloudy and crystalized, but still a mellow yellow with a slight froth at the top. It isn't too complicated of a honey. It doesn't have different tones and flavors- mostly a sweet, crisp flavor with an undertone of something aromatically herby. This is the rosemary coming through. It isn't overpowering, more of a subtle background taste. The first and aftertaste are nearly the same.

This is a good, solid honey. Great for tea- especially herbal tea, on bread and in hot cereal. I think it might be good for baking as well.

In addition to rosemary honey, La Maison des Abeilles had other varieties, all locally produced and harvested by the apiarist (whose name I wish I had now!).