I got this honey recently at a new store devoted to all things honey in Cambridge, MA near Harvard Square, called "Follow the Honey." I dragged my friend Louise there to check it out. It is a small store but they have an impressive selection of honey (a very good selection of American honey in particular), and they also have beeswax candles, soaps, lotions and even jewelry inspired by honey and bees (called "bee bling" on their website). Apart from the beautiful displays, the variety of honey and the pleasant staff, they also allow you to taste any honey in the store at their honey bar (!) My kind of store! Paulline helped me and Louise with a few selections and recommended atchafalaya honey - one that I had never heard of. I was having trouble deciding what honey to buy up until then... Needless to say I ended up taking home a very large jar.
So what is atchfalaya honey? Well, to begin with atchafalaya (ah-CHA-fa-LIE-ah) is an American-Indian word meaning 'long river,' and according to the atchafalaya honey website (yes, there is one: atchafalayahoney.com), atchafalaya honey is harvested in North America's largest river swamp - The Atchafalaya Basin in south central Louisiana where the Atchafalaya river and the Gulf of Mexico converge. It is an unpopulated area (a National Heritage area since 1997) with abundant native flora contained within a unique eco-system made up of swamps, bayous, backwater lakes and bottomland hardwood forests covering almost a million acres. What is a bottomland hardwood forest? According to Wiki it is "a type of deciduous hardwood forest (e.g. Gum, Oak and Bald Cypress trees) found in broad lowland floodplains along large rivers and lakes." This river swamp basin is also home to more than 85 species of fish, 200 species of birds, alligators, and black bears, according to the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area website. But what about honey producing flowers? Unfortunately, they don't say.
From my quick look online it's obvious that Louisiana takes honey and honey production seriously. According to the Louisiana honey website, honey has been collected in Louisiana since before 1812 when it became a state, and has since produced thousands of pounds of honey each year. Today, they even breed queen bees that are then sent all over the United States to raise new bee colonies. In fact, the honeybee was made the Louisiana official insect in 1977.
But back to this terrific jar of atchafalaya honey. It is a slightly opaque honey with a warm, reddish-orange color. It is surprisingly thin and I have to quickly twirl it on a toothpick to get enough to taste. It has a very light initial sweetness (not too sweet) with a subtle spicy, earthy taste that remains throughout. It is uncomplicated in that no other flavors surface, and there is no after taste. I think it would be perfect in tea, on hot buttered toast or in hot cereal. It might also be a good choice to use in baking.
If you are in the Boston area, you can find it at Follow The Honey at 1132 Mass Ave in Cambridge. To locate other places where it is sold, you might try contacting the producers via their website: http://www.atchafalayahoney.com/