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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Maquis, Miel du Pays D'Oc, Monséret, France

View from the ruins of Peyrepertuse to the ruins of Queribus
We were recently in Aude, in the Languedoc-Roussillon region in the south of France. It is near the Mediterranean coast and the border of Spain. It is an absolutely beautiful area of France and I highly recommend a visit. Between visiting world renown, local vineyards, sampling wines and local cuisine (cassoulet, a rich, slow-cooked casserole containing meat (usually pork, sausages, goose or duck), pork skin and white beans, is a specialty, especially in the Carcassonne area), visiting abbeys and castles (this is the area of the "Cathar" castles; pictured is Peyrepertuse, one of my favorites), and hiking through some breathtaking scenery, there is a lot to see and do. 

Monséret, France (in red, lower right area)
On one side trip we visited a miellerie in Monséret, La Miellerie de Clauses.  Monséret is a small wine-producing village in the wine district of Corbiers and the miellerie is found on the outskirts of the village in an area of wild scrubland. During the summer season the miellerie offers educational tours of their facility and pony ride tours through fields where their honey is collected.  They do everything from tending hives, to extracting honey, to distributing it. We, unfortunately, were there before the season began so we didn't get an up close view of their production and had to be content with sampling the varieties of honey a their store's honey tasting bar (rosemary, forest, thyme, acacia and others) and perusing other honey products that they make and sell (honey cake, and mead among others).  One of the honeys that they produce is maquis honey, a honey I've never had before. I also didn't know exactly what "maquis" was.
La Miellerie de Clauses

Maquis isn't a flower source but a biome (geographically contiguous area with similar climatic conditions, also referred to as an "ecosystem") in the Mediterranean region. It generally is made up of densely growing shrubs including holm oak, sage, juniper, buckthorn, spurge olive and myrtle (among others) and is found throughout the Mediterranean Basin. The name comes from the plural of the Italian "macchia" which means "thicket." Maquis, given its height and density, provides ideal cover for bandits and guerrillas, and its name has been used to refer to a few guerrilla movements, notably the Maquis in World War II, a band of the French Resistance, and the Spanish Maquis, a guerrilla group that fought against the Franco regime in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War. Interestingly, it has also been used as the name of the fictitious anti-Cardassian resistance movement in an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.  Members of the Maquis were known as "maquisards" and the Italian for "becoming a fugitive" is "darsi alla macchia."

Maquis near Monséret, France
Maquis is similar to the English heath, but with taller (and different) shrubs and it tends to be found in arid, rocky areas supportive of drought-resistant plants. Maquis is also similar to "garrigue." Both are translated as "scrubland" in French. However, maquis is more dense than garrigue and grows in more acidic soil, whereas garrigue is associated with low bushes growing widely spaced from each other on base rich soils (i.e. limestone). Both maquis and garrigue are found in the Mediterranean basin and the two terms are often used interchangeably.

Maquis honey, Meillerie de Clauses, Monséret, France
My maquis honey is an opaque, mellow, orange-brown color. It is nearly all crystals a, so possible a quick crystallizer. It has a heady, summer flower aroma, faintly floral but with herbal and vaguely menthol overtones. I can almost feel the heat of a Mediterranean sun beating down and hear the sound of cicadas and bees. It isn't overly sweet and the medium sized crystals dissolve quickly, so it doesn't have an overly grainy texture. It has a robust herbal, grassy, earthy taste that is slightly bitter, reminiscent of thyme or forest honey, with a very subtle, fleeting, floral and menthol after taste. Very tasty. It may be too strong for a delicate herbal tea, unless you want to add additional flavor, but probably a good choice for a dense honey cake or mixed into thick, plain yoghurt. Right out of the jar it is pretty good too!

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