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Sunday, October 12, 2014

UC Davis Northern California Wildflower Honey, Davis, California

I was recently in Davis, California visiting the University of California at Davis (UC Davis) and was really impressed. For starters the campus is a gem: it covers 7,000+ acres and has an incredible diversity of plants and trees, from succulent gardens to old growth redwoods and eucalyptus with peeling bark. The colors and textures of tree trunks were amazing (see photos).
?Paper Maple Tree Trunk, UC Davis

Within this beautiful campus there is also an arboretum (the Davis Arboretum), a public botanical garden along The Waterway that has a collection of plants native to California, among many others. With water views, a well maintained path and benches in the shade, it is a refuge of green and tranquility.

It isn't surprising that all of this green and diversity is found here.
(Very) Old Oak Tree Trunk, UC Davis
UC Davis is located in prime farmland (Yolo country) and it began as an agricultural college. The 1905 University Farm Bill together with Peter J. Shields' vision and commitment created the school which opened its doors in 1909. In its early days it was known at "University Farm" and was affiliated with the University of Berkeley, just a one and a half hour drive away. In 1922 it was renamed the Northern Branch of the College of Agriculture and in 1959 the Regents of the University of California declared it as the seventh general campus in the University of California system.

Redwood Tree Trunk, UC Davis
While UC Davis is probably best known for its agricultural and environmental science programs (especially its viticulture and enology, and animal science programs- they have an on-campus dairy, equestrian facility and experimental farm!) it is a research university with a large menu of nationally and globally ranked programs, and is considered a "Public Ivy"- a public university with the academic rigor and standards of an Ivy League university.

Farmland around Davis:w/ view of the Sierra Nevada Mountains
UC Davis is adjacent to the small town of Davis, California. Davis  is a college town full of cafes, restaurants, bike stores, and funky nooks and crannies. It has a farmer's market on Wednesdays and Saturdays (bought some very tasty local almonds and pistachios there) and is home to the United States Bicycling Hall of Fame (Davis and UC Davis are extremely bike friendly and everyone bikes there).

The Davis region is found within the Sacramento Valley and is 15 miles west of Sacramento, about an hour's drive to San Francisco and Napa Valley, and about two hours drive to Lake Tahoe. The surrounding countryside is flat farmland, with views of the Sierra Nevada Mountains inland. It is quite dramatic. Did I mention how perfect the weather is? Cool mornings and warm, sunny days 265 days of the year. It is not surprising that there are solar and wind farms between the fields of crops.

Among the many UC Davis departments, programs and centers is the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center, established in 2012 and housed in the Robert Mondavi Institute (for wine and food science). It aims to teach people about honey, bees and beekeeping, and pollinators and pollination. They offer mead making courses and a Master Beekeeping Program is in the works. In addition, they are working to create bee-friendly legislation in California that would allow all communities to keep bees; in many bees are considered as "exotic pets" and are restricted (!) There is also a research facility, the Harry H. Laidlaw Bee Biology facility, that does bee biology and genetic research. Of note it is found on Bee Biology Road (!) With agriculture's reliance on pollinators, bee and pollinator research is an important field.

UC Davis Northern California Wildflower Honey
Amongst all of this teaching, research and political activity, the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center finds time to look after its own hives, and sells honey on campus and on-line. Proceeds go towards funding the Center's work and bee research.

The jar I have is from their 2013 harvest. The floral sources are coastal foothill and Sacramento Valley wildflowers. The honey has been heated and filtered (gently) to delay/reduce crystallization but to retain enzymes and pollen.

The honey is a slightly cloudy, orange-yellow color and of medium to thick consistency. It has a very smooth texture with floral and menthol undertones, and a slight spiciness. It is not overly sweet and its flavors are subtle making it an ideal honey for herbal tea, or wherever you want honey sweetness but not a strong, unusual honey flavor. I think it would be quite nice on hot, buttered toast, in hot cereal, or right out of the jar!