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Saturday, June 9, 2012

Miel de Sologne

This honey comes from the Sologne region in France. Sologne is in central France and is bounded by the river Loire to the north, the river Cher to the south, and Sancerre and Berry to the east. It is a beautiful part of France, thanks in some part to Napoleon III who supported filling in the swamps and planting trees in the area in the 1800s. It is now a region of forests and lakes, and is known for its beautiful countryside, its châteaux (Chambord, Cheverny and Chenonceau to name a few), hiking, biking, and fishing. I guess it goes without saying that it is a great place to vacation. On a random note were you ever forced to read the book "Le Grand Meaulnes" by Alain-Fournier? It was required summer reading for me in high school. Well, it is set in the region of Sologne and is where Meaulnes becomes lost and ends up at the mysterious estate.

The honey I have is simply 'miel de Sologne' and the label states that the flower sources are forest and meadow flowers of the region: heather, chestnut and bramble being the main sources.

Heather belongs to the Ericaceae family of plants, which is a large family that includes over 4000 species across 126 genera (according to wiki), making it one of the most speciose family of flowering plants. In fact, the family includes quite a diverse group of plants that I would not normally have put together: blueberries, rhododendrons, and heather, to name a few.

We have done some hiking in Sologne and can attest to the prevalence of bramble (wild blackberry and raspberry bushes) in the forests (along with small, sour strawberries that taste like sweettarts). We always carried a plastic ziplock bag to collect berries when we were out hiking. There is nothing like hot, ripe, sticky berries fresh off the bramble.

Chestnut trees are also quite common in the area. Apparently around the world there are eight or nine types of chestnut trees, which are a species of deciduous trees in the Fagaceae family, but only one type is found in Europe (Castanea sativa), so it is probably safe to say which kind of chestnut tree was the source for this honey. Chestnuts, however, should not be confused with horse chestnuts which have similar nuts but are, in fact, not at all related to chestnuts.

Of interest, chestnuts have a long history in Europe. It has been reported that Alexander the Great and the Romans planted chestnut trees across Europe while on their various campaigns, and the Greek army is said to have survived their retreat from Asia Minor in 401-399 BC thanks to their stores of chestnuts. Furthermore the ancient Greeks Dioscorides and Galen, wrote of how eating too many chestnuts induces flatulence (so be warned).

Miel de Sologne is clear and dark honey. It is a thin, though, and takes a few swirls to get enough on a toothpick to sample. It has a smooth texture with a strong taste of resins with a smoky after taste. This is mostly the chestnut source coming through, which is a very dominant flavor. It isn't a complex honey. There are no subtle flavors that come and go, but it is a robust honey with a sharp, woodsy, smoky flavor. It is probably not for everyone, and would change the taste of a delicate tea. I'd recommend it on hot buttered German bread, or on hot cereal. I'm not sure where you can get it, other than in Sologne, so you just may have to plan a trip to France.

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