We have done several honey (and coffee) tastings and pairings this year – the latest one earlier this week with Honest Chocolate (because honey + chocolate = 2 x delicious ; ) These tastings are such a great opportunity to showcase the variety in local honeys. There was a time when we thought of honey as … well, honey. That was before we started beekeeping, and before we tasted the honeys from different gardens. Even hives in the same garden can produce honeys that are distinctly different in smell and taste – it all depends on the nectar sources visited by the bees. What’s the fun in eating honeys that have been blended for consistency if you can have honey with a peachy flavour (this year’s Muizenberg honey – honestly, it is peach jam disguised as a honey), or honey that tastes like flowers (our Overberg dune veld honey, wow)! At the University of California, they must have felt the same when they brought together a panel of 26 professional tasters from different industries (chocolate, wine, olive oil, coffee) to taste their way through a wide range of honeys. The result is the honey flavour wheel, which we use at our tastings to stimulate the imagination 🙂 It includes more familiar flavours, such as berry and caramel, and then some pretty off-the-wall ones – ever thought of a honey flavour as catpee, or barnyard? One of the most unusual honeys we have come across over the years is one from hives on a remote mountainside on the Agulhas coastal plain. It is almost black in colour, and its taste has been described as molasses, mouldy, black pepper, swamp (yep!), brandy & coke – to name a few notes from our tasting sheets. The great thing is, there is no right or wrong in tasting; flavour is in the bud of the taster so to speak. Our next plan: a honey tasting in one of the Gardener’s Glory gardens. Wouldn’t it be great to taste honey while watching bees at work? Hive-to-table at its best!
Richard and I began urban beekeeping about six years ago, as a hobby. We went on a beekeeping course, bought a hive and placed it in the space that was available to us: our parents’/in-laws’ garden in Claremont. It was only once we got into it that we discovered how many people are keeping bees in (sub)urban backyards and rooftops around the world. Start reading up on urban beekeeping and you come across some great stories. One of the most expensive honeys in the world comes from hives on top of Paris’s Grand Opera House. A 125g jar will cost you around R250! The Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York serves its own ‘rooftop grown’ honey in cocktails.
There is quite a bit of talk about bees doing relatively well in cities – something that has attracted interest with bee health being an issue of increasing global concern. The urban environment gives bees access to a variety of flowers, as opposed to a single type of crop, and a varied diet has been linked to a stronger immune system. In cities, bees are generally less likely to be exposed to agricultural pesticides. This is good news for the bees, but also for us it seems: Lab tests done in Paris showed that the urban honey there is cleaner than honey from rural areas. Urban beekeeping is by nature relatively small scale and hives usually stay in one place (rather than being moved around), which means less disruption for the bees. And then there is of course the opportunity that urban beekeeping gives us to learn about bees and honey. When you see how much time and bee-effort goes into making a spoonful of honey, and you get to eat it fresh out of the comb, it takes the honey tasting experience to a whole new level. And all that is why we love urban beekeeping…
(Photo Credit: Matthew Ibbotson/Crush!)