In the pre-dawn light, a small bee darts from flower to flower.
It's mission? A morning nosh.
On the menu are the most delectable morsels of nectar each stop has to offer; morsels that will later be crafted into a unique and distinctly local honey. But our bee friends also perform another vital task on their buzzy travels. Nothing major... except ensuring the survival of 80% of the plants that make up the human diet.
In a nutshell, each time a bee lands on a flower:
- Pollen grains that got stuck to their feet from their previous stop fall off, and
- They pick up new grains that travel with them to their next port of call
Since the male anther absolutely, positively has to get to the female stigma to begin the process of plant fertilization and reproduction, that makes bees... stay with us... the quasi Fedex of Pollination.
In addition to their role in propagating plant life as we know it, the sweet nectar that draws bees from flower to flower is also transformed into one of the most delicious natural elixirs there is: honey.
And in the right hands, a delicious, uniquely floral tasting local honey that is a far cry from the ordinary blended stuff you'll find on grocery shelves. A product, you may not be surprised to learn, that has much of its flavor and nutrition boiled out in the pursuit of mass quantity and profits.
Unfiltered and unprocessed artisanal honey, on the other hand, is a remarkably rich and viscous substance that not only tastes amazing but is also prized for its remarkable medicinal properties. For instance, raw honey is full of antioxidants which are known to help protect against cancer and heart disease. It also has natural antibacterial properties, which is why it’s been used for generations to help treat wounds.
And yes, it turns out your mother is absolutely spot on: a spoonful of honey will indeed help soothe your sore throat. In fact, raw honey has been shown to be just as effective as dextromethorphan -- a common ingredient in cough medicine. (Excellent work, Dr. Mom. Do you take insurance?)
Have we mentioned "delicious" yet?
Raw honey’s remarkable health-sustaining properties are key, but the main reason we all love the stuff is more basic: namely, it tastes amazing. While supermarket honey is universally sweet, the authentic raw alternative comes in a wide selection of varietals based on where and when it was produced. Similar to other delicious earthy tastes such as wine, cheese and chocolate? Exactly.
Honey is just dependent on its terroir as the aforementioned culinary royalty, meaning it is inextricably linked to its local geography and climate. Bees in different areas will naturally collect pollen from different plants, giving their honey a distinct flavor. That flavor is also influenced by the weather, what time of day the honey is collected, and innumerable other factors that make each batch of raw honey completely unique.
This ensures a level of pure flavor, color and aroma that processed honeys simply cannot achieve.
Stick out your tongue.
All across the United States, artisanal honey "tasting” is in. So if you're interested in truly savoring and appreciating the artistry of this nature-designed treat, start by sourcing a variety of raw, in season local honeys. This is easily achieved at your nearby farmer’s market or year-round at, well, your local Firecracker.
The whole process is similar to that of a wine tasting and all your senses should be on high alert:
- What does the honey look like? Buttery, or with hints or caramel or mahogany?
- Is it light, rich, dusky?
- Stir it gently, and see how it moves with your spoon, its density, its responsiveness.
- Then, when you can’t wait any longer, taste it. Is it tropical? Warm? Vegetal?
- Remember that this substance is made from the places where the bees lived; can you taste the wood? Moss? Fruit? Fermentation?
To finish: care for some cheese?
And honey. An age-old pairing for good reason. Like other terroir food + drinks, when considering what pairings to try there are a number of different directions one can go:
- By Season
- A light, fruity summer honey with a fresh goats-milk cheese
- By Tone
- A dark, smoky honey with a similarly dusky blue cheese
- By Terroir
- For example, Culture Cheese Magazine recommends a local lavender & espresso rubbed cheese with lavender honey from the same region of Utah. (Yes, please.)
So what starts with a bee hop between local blossoms ends in a startling gourmet treat. Whether paired with handcrafted artisan cheese at your next dinner party, or as a thoughtful gift for a special friend with a sweet tooth, honey is an extraordinary and nuanced food worthy of all it's... you know... buzz.
“There is one masterpiece, the hexagonal cell, that touches perfection. No living creature, not even man, has achieved, in the centre of his sphere, what the bee has achieved in her own: and were some one from another world to descend and ask of the earth the most perfect creation of the logic of life, we should needs have to offer the humble comb of honey.” -- Maurice Maeterlinck, "The Life Of The Bee", 1924