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Sunday, May 11, 2014

Daniolo Strawberry Tree Organic Honey, Greece

Daniolo is a brand of a Greek company (Capacious Ltd) that operates out of Cyprus and specializes in working with small farmers (and apiarists) to bring to market products from the Greek Mediterranean basin. The company was founded by Constantine Daniolos and has a diverse product line that includes Kalamata olives, olive oil, olive oil soap, oregano, and honey (strawberry tree, wild thyme, vanilla fir and chestnut). All products are certified organic.

The Strawberry Tree showing flowers and fruit
I have their Strawberry Tree honey (although the label on my honey states “Strawberry raw honey organic” I think it is, in fact, Strawberry Tree honey, since the company makes the latter and not the former). I wasn’t familiar with what a Strawberry Tree was and had to look it up. According to wiki, Strawberry Tree is an evergreen shrub or small tree (Arbutus unedo) in the Etricaceae family (also known as the heath or heather family and includes cranberries, blueberries, huckleberries, azalea, rhododendron and common heaths and heathers). It is native to Western Europe, Ireland and the Mediterranean region, and happiest in warm, dry climates. “What on earth is it doing in Ireland?” you may ask. Strangely, it also grows well in the cool, wet summers of western Ireland, and in temperate regions. 
The fruit (berries) of the Strawberry Tree

Of interest, in Ireland it is known as the “Killarney Strawberry tree.” Its presence in Ireland (notably in Killarney and around Lough Gill in County Sligo) is apparently a remnant of its being there during the Atlantic period (circa 8000 BC to circa 3100 BC) when the climate was much warmer than today. Presumably it adapted to the climate as it changed. 

The shrub generally produces white, bell shaped flowers in a cluster that resemble snow bells. The fruit, however, is a red berry with a rough surface, and although edible, is not terribly flavorful in its raw form. The fruit take a year to mature so one often finds ripe fruit and flowers on the same shrub. The fruits are used to make jams and liqueurs (e.g. the Portuguese medronho, a type of brandy), but the plant is mostly cultivated as an ornamental shrub.

The Strawberry Tree has gotten its share of notice in the arts. It has been figured in paintings (e.g. The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch), is on the coat of arms of the city of Madrid, and is mentioned by Ovid in Metamorphose.
Madrid Coat of Arms with a bear eating Strawberry Tree fruit
The honey that is produced from the Strawberry Tree is reportedly bitter. In fact, Pliny the elder (AD 23- AD 79) wrote that it should not be planted where bees are kept because of the bitterness it would impart to honey. For some, however, the unusual flavor, sometimes also described as having an aroma hinting of roasted coffee beans, it thought to make for a tasty combination with pungent cheeses or cured meats. 

Daniolo Strawberry (Tree) Raw Honey Organic
The honey is a mellow caramel color with lots of particulate matter (a good sign that it hasn’t been overly filtered). It has a slightly pungent smell, subtly smoky with a faint licorice aroma. It is a fairly thick honey, and quite clear in small quantities. It rolls around on first taste and is not overly flavorful, but then gradually an aromatic flavor emerges. It has a (soft) bitter undertone that lingers, but there is also a hint of menthol and licorice that grows in prominence. It is an altogether unusual and very pleasant honey! I didn’t taste the coffee that some have mentioned and, while I did taste some bitterness, it was very mild. Given the delicate flavor I would not recommend using this honey in baking or with other strong flavors that would drown it out (i.e. in a strong black tea), but it would be very nice on buttered toast, with interesting cheeses, or straight out of the jar.

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