Tuesday, 3 May 2011

A Honey Tasting

For the last couple of years, whenever I have seen an interesting locally produced honey for sale, I've bought it. Mr. Ferdzy's brother and sister-in-law were here for the weekend, so we decided it was time to haul out our honey haul and compare and contrast it.

From left to right, we had melon honey from Thames River Melons, lavender honey from Prince Edward County Lavender, cranberry bog honey from Iroquois Cranberry Growers, treeflower honey from Sunnyside Honey, blueberry honey form Parker-Bee Apiaries, and a mixed wildflower honey from Beaver Valley Gold. Somehow I forgot to get any buckwheat or clover honey! Still, that's an impressive selection of local honeys - bet you didn't know there were that many.

The suggestion was made to pair the honeys with cheese, so that's what we did, along with bread and a salad from the garden, and a few pickles and preserves. It was interesting to try the honeys with different cheeses. Some combos we all agreed on, others were an individual preference, but it was amazing how the different cheeses and honeys combined in very distinctive ways. Some combos were fantastic, others were not so good.

So, what did we think?

The first honey we tried was the treeflower honey. This was produced in the spring of 2009, when we had a long cold spring (a bit like this one, actually). Because the flowers were so slow to emerge, the early bees had to forage from the usually wind-pollinated flowers of trees. The resulting honey was astonishing. Not overly sweet, but perfumey, in a woodsy rather than a floral way, with a flavour that seemed like it was going to head into menthol, or horehound, or something intense like that, before turning around and finishing sweetly. This went with most of the cheeses, but nobody liked it with the smoked cheddar.

Because of the requirement for precise climactic conditions, this is not a honey that will be available every year, and few people are likely to have it. Still, it's rather fabulous and if you see it, it's worth snatching it up.

Next we tried the melon blossom honey. It seemed much sweeter, but with a unique flavour. It was less complex than the treeflower honey, but was still very deep and rich in flavour; almost caramel-like. We thought it went particularly well with a maple-flavoured cheddar from Black River Cheese.

The cranberry bog honey, too, was sweeter than the treeflower honey, and lighter, brighter and more acidic than the the melon blossom honey. It seemed a little less sweet than the melon blossom honey, and it paired really well with the smoked cheddar.

The lavender honey was the one that had the most detectable flavour of its source blossom - but it was still very faint. This honey seemed intensely sweet, and it was the lightest in colour of any of the honeys. I liked it with a soft creamy chevre.

There was some detectable berry flavour in the blueberry honey as well, although it was even slighter than the lavender. Like the melon blossom honey, it had some caramel flavour to it, although it was overall a lighter and more acidic honey, but with a good lingering finish. We liked it with a goat gouda from Monforte, and with the smoked cheddar.

Finally, we tried our standard everyday honey, which is a wildflower mix. It suffered a little from overfamiliarity, at least in Mr. Ferdzy's assessment. I actually think it is a superb honey, second to none. I have always loved the honey from the Georgian Bay/Muskoka area. The flavour is rich, well balanced, and complex but not heavy; almost changing from moment to moment perhaps because it contains such a mix of nectars. Our wine expert (Mr. Ferdzy's brother) described it as having a good long finish, and it's true; it does linger, sweet and a little perfumey.

I've always wondered why there isn't apple-blossom or peach-blossom honey. I asked a honey vendor in the Niagara this question once, and was told that the early honey was left for the bees, and the late summer honey was the one that was harvested. But since I was able to get the treeflower honey, obviously it doesn't have to be done that way. I do wonder what those honeys would be like, and I hope I will find someone who has some sometime. Has anyone had any other local honeys? What did you think of them?

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