Domestic or local honey is entering an new era of “craft” production and presentation. The degree of effort and ingenuity that many beekeepers are putting into their honey products is nothing short of amazing.
Most honey sold in the U.S. now is imported. The majority of the honey you find on store shelves and baked into the foods that use honey comes from South America and Asia. Yes, a lot of that “banned” Chinese honey still finds it’s way into the country via “honey launderers” in Europe and U.S. honey packers that really don’t care what is in the honey they import, as long as it’s cheap. They are going to blend it all anyway.
Where does that leave domestic honey? Some of it, mostly produced by commercial pollinator bee businesses, does find it’s way into the big honey packers. It too gets blended into the job lots of imported honeys to add to the flavor and allows the packers to say that the honey they offer is also domestic.
What of the rest? More and more, we’re beginning to see a rise of artisan honey. Local producers working to time their harvests to get small but unique bouquets of nectar based honey that become sought out and bought by locals and new “Honey Connoisseurs” that live to experiment with honey the way other people collect and sample fine wines, scotch and spices.
C. Marina Marchese and Kim Flottum, both established beekeepers and authors, co-wrote a book titled “Honey Connoisseur” that has swept the imagination and taste-buds of beekeepers and non-beekeepers alike by introducing readers not only to the nectar sources that produce exquisite honeys but delightful ways those honey can be identified, matched with other foods and drinks and used in cooking as more than just a sweetener.
Other honey craftsmen are getting into the infused honey market and are delicately blending other, unique, flavors into their locally collected honey. I know a beekeeper in New York State with a burgeoning side business that infuses some of the hottest peppers into his honey and is picking up like gangbusters. It’s an awesome thing to experience according to those who rave and beg for more even when his supply is sold out for the year.
The mead makers are still out there making their finest honey wine and beer. This is now even further accentuated with the explosion of craft brewing. The possibilities now for honey based brews is staggering. Alcoholic honey beverages aren’t alone. There’s a slowly building community of honey based soda and non-alcoholic drink makers making an entry into the craft honey beverage realm as well. Here in my own back yard down in Bellevue, NE we have a fellow who makes a spectacular mead AND a honey root beer that is simply awesome. His business has built quite a reputation for creative honey beverages.
As domestic apiculture moves further into the twenty-first century, we will see, I believe, an explosion of “craft” honey offerings. Honey producing beekeepers, hobbyists and professional apiarists alike, have their work cut out for them to find ever creative and unique ways to expose new customers to not just local honey, but custom, crafted honey products and uses.
Quite a delicious problem to take on.