Serious about honey

This fairly authoritative new book on the natural product with a unique sweetness examines how honey is produced, and what gives honeys their distinctive tastes and textures.
This fairly authoritative new book on the natural product with a unique sweetness examines how honey is produced, and what gives honeys their distinctive tastes and textures.
Posted: September 06, 2013

SO, YOU'VE made plans to attend the Philadelphia Honey Festival this weekend at various locations around the city (see sidebar, below). And you already know you'll come home determined to try every type of honey under the sun.

Now, what?

How about hosting a honey tasting? You'll find everything you need in The Honey Connoisseur: Selecting, Tasting, and Pairing Honey, With a Guide to More Than 30 Varietals, by C. Marina Marchese, founder of Red Bee Honey, and Kim Flottum, editor of Bee Culture Magazine.

These writers, as you'd expect from their credentials, know their stuff. The book includes a history of honey; concerns about bee health; facts and figures of honey production; and information about criminal and unethical practices in making and selling honey, which, the authors write, is "one of the four most adulterated foods on grocery-store shelves, along with olive oil, milk and orange juice."

Nearly three dozen honey-source plants are written about in detail - from commonplace clover to more unusual kudzu - along with descriptions of myriad flavors and sensations, and tasting notes for each honey.

The book devotes considerable space to terroir, defined by the writers as "the combination of characteristics of soil, location and weather in any given region that affects honey plants, honey bees and the honey harvest."

Wine lovers know about terroir, but honey is a product of its environment, too.

The most scrumptious parts of the book are about tasting - and savoring - each spoonful of honey. Honey is more than merely sweet; it runs the gamut from light to dark in color, silky to velvety in texture, mild to robust in flavor.

The authors note eight flavor categories: floral, fruit, warm, fresh, vegetal, woody, chemical and spoiled.

They also explain how to develop a more sophisticated honey palate and offer advice on hosting a tasting. The book includes a color chart, an aroma and tasting wheel, and a sample scorecard.

Among the tasting tips:

* Honey looks and tastes best served in small glass bowls. Avoid plastic containers. (Sorry, cute honeybear bottles.)

* The best way to clean your palate between samples is with room-temperature water (never ice-cold) or green-apple slices.

* Avoid using shampoo, soap, toothpaste or mouthwash immediately before a tasting; they can linger and interfere with experiencing the true tastes of honey.

Likewise, avoid wearing perfume or cologne to a tasting, and avoid smoking, drinking alcohol and even eating right before a tasting.

Marchese and Flottum also have great ideas on pairing honey with food. Cheeses, of course, work well with several honeys, but the book includes such unusual matchups as tulip poplar honey with sour red cherries, and tamarisk honey with crispy bacon.

And what book on honey would be complete without recipes? They range from simple ones that are little more than "drizzle honey over cheese" to honey, oat and nut energy bars.

Clearly, honey is more than merely something that sweetens your tea. Though it's never really been out of style, it is worthy of being included in the ranks of other artisanal delights.


On Twitter: @DebWNJ

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