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Monday, October 14, 2013

Miel de châtaignier (Chestnut Honey), Desaignes, France

Desaignes, France (in red)
The chestnut honey that I have comes from producers Stephanne and Sylvie Manganello. They have a farm in Hameau de Grangeon near Desaignes (Ardèche) close to the north side of the Monts d'Ardèche regional natural park. They produce honey, propolis, pollen, royal jelly and spiced, honey bread.

It is an absolutely beautiful part of France. Desaignes is surrounded by rolling hills, vineyards and woodlands. Desaignes is also listed as one of the villages of Ardèche 'with character' because of its monuments and architectural qualities. It has a Protestant church, gothic houses, and at the center of the old medieval section of the town is the Chateau de Desaignes, a 15th century, fortified chateau. It is open to visitors and houses a museum.

Chateau de Desaignes
 The area is also known for its chestnuts. Of note the park, which was created in 2001, was the result, in large part, of the efforts of chestnut growers in the area to preserve the region's cultural and natural heritage. Also of interest, the Ardèche chestnut was given the 'appellation d'origne contrôlée' or 'AOC' label in June 2006 for its fresh chestnuts as well as its dry chestnuts, pieces of dry chestnuts, entire peeled chestnuts and chestnut puree. Receiving the AOC is a great honor as it is official recognition of quality. The Ardèche produces about 50% of France's chestnuts, so it is a very big deal.  

European Chestnut in Bloom
I'm always amazed at how many different types of the same plant or tree there are. Chestnut trees, which belong to the same family as beech and oak, consist of nine different species.  According to wiki, the four main species are the European, Chinese, Japanese, and American chestnut. The European chestnut (Castanea sativa) is the only chestnut in Europe, and while in appearance it is very similar to the horse chestnut, it isn't related to the horse chestnut at all. So, I think it is safe to say that the honey I have is European chestnut honey. Within a species there are a number of varieties. In the Ardèche 65 different varieties of European chestnut are grown, with the most well known being: Comballe, Bouche Rouge, Sardonne, Précoce des Vans, and Merle. 

Miel de châtaignier (Chestnut Honey)
My honey has a very deep brown-ish, mellow color with red undertones that are more obvious in bright light. I've had it for a while but it is still liquid, which, while unusual for many other types of honey, is not so unusual for chestnut honey- it is a slow crystallizer. This is apparently due to its high proportion of fructose. It is a very thick honey with a pungent, somewhat bitter, herbal taste, with the bitterness accentuated in the after taste. This honey is not for everyone. It has a very distinct and strong flavor that hardly resembles the sweat, floral taste that more typical honeys have. It is much too flavorful for a delicate tea, but might be very tasty on hot buttered toast, in a strong dark tea, with goat cheese, or in baking.
bon appétit!


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