I've long been fascinated by honey bees, their caste systems, the remarkable dual functioning of their hives as both wax dwellings and sustenance, their vital role in pollinating our fruits, nuts, and flowers, and of course the liquid gold made and stored in their hives. Fresh honey has been both a delicacy and a natural medicine for thousands of years. It is beneficial for allergy relief, boosting the immune system and is a great source of antioxidants. Sure, there are big chain honey makers out there, but to truly reap the health and nutritional benefits of honey (not to mention experience the variety), you need to start buying the local unpasteurized product. CT residents are lucky to have a few small beekeepers right here in Fairfield County as these are the people who are keeping the tradition of pure honey production alive. One of these people is Marina Marchese of Red Bee Apiary in Weston. Not only is Marina an expert on everything related to a honey bees, but she enjoys sharing her vast knowledge with others.
Marina has been keeping bees for 10 years, and is truly passionate about these docile creatures. When a CTbites reader emailed us to express interest in a "honey tasting," we knew who to call. On a picture perfect day a group of honey enthusiasts gathered at the Red Bee Apiary for a seven flight honey tasting. Yes..a honey tasting. Honey, like wine, has varietals based on where the bees are sourcing their nectar. Every source whether it be a grass, flower, or fruit generates a completely different flavor profile. This is why when you walk into a specialty store, you will encounter honey descriptors like "Goldenrod," "Lavender," or "Clover." In the past I have played honey roulette, grabbing one of these jars off the shelves at random…no longer. After experiencing the unique flavors found in these different varietals, I understand that the robust dark "Tulip Poplar" (from the polar tree) has more depth than a light colored "Orange Blossom." Additionally they should be paired with different foods based on their flavor profile. A dark honey with raisin and maple undertones like "Red Bee's Tulip Poplar" might compliment a rich dessert, figs or blue cheese; the light mildly scented "Alfafa Honey" works well as table honey or on toast, while a spicier honey like "Pumpkin Blossom" only harvested in Fall) would greatly enhance your BBQ sauce. Like wine, or olive oil, every honey is unique and many are uniquely wonderful.
I know what you are wondering. How does one farm these different types of honey? After just a few hours with Marina, I can share the secret. Bees will collect nectar (as long as it isn't raining) from whatever plants are in season around their hives. If blueberry bushes are blooming, they seek their nectar. If goldenrod is out, they will pollinate and collect nectar from their vibrant yellow flowers. The challenge for the beekeeper is to "uncap" the wax combs and centrifuge the honey from the cells while those distinct plants are in season. If you wait too long and another plant joins the party, you get mixed varieties. A good beekeeper has to have impeccable timing.
While CT only produces one variety of honey, WildFlower (based on the mix of flowers available to bees in CT), Marina has additional hives just over the border in New York where she can harvest specific varieties like "Blueberry Blossom," "Goldenrod,""or Alfalfa." The timing is key to this process, and each type of honey that results from this careful harvesting is unique to its source.
When guests has arrived at Red Bee Apiary for the honey tasting, we were seated at a long table in Marina's garden with live guitar music from Bern McCain in the background. Idyllic would be an understatement. In the distance chicken romped, and bees buzzed by their boxed hives. 7 honey samples sat before us as well as a few food delivery vehicles and palate cleansers, those being in the form of my favorite "Flaxette Bread" from The Fairfield Baking Company and some mild goat cheese and Brie.
Like good pupils we had our pencils at the ready and our tasting notes by our sides. We were ready. The first sample was "Farmhouse Comb Honey," a very special culinary delight where Marina literally cuts out a section of the hive's cells for consumption, wax and all. If your goal is obtain the cleanest, and most nutrient rich product, this is your honey of choice. If you would prefer to have your honey pre-centrifuged to remove the wax and any other particles, the next up was "Red Bee Signature Wildflower" honey produced right here on her farm in Weston. It had a dark rich color with maple and caramel undertones, and great body, and gains its flavor from an invasive "bamboo-like" plants that grows locally. The "Alfalfa" was an extra light honey with a sweet taste and subtle hints of the alfalfa grass. "Goldenrod," no surprise, was floral, almost perfume-like (in a good way), and tasted sunny and fresh. "Blueberry Blossom" was one of my favorites with a wonderful fruity, lemony flavor. This blueberry honey was from last year's harvest as the blueberry bushes aren't out yet, but honey is remarkable in that it requires no preservatives and can last indefinitely, The last samples in our 7 course flight were "Tulip Poplar," a rich dark raisiny flavor and the sweet "Star Thistle" which had a unexpected bite (but not in a bad way) in the finish.
It was difficult to leave the Red Bee Apiary and go back to the daily grind, but I did so with a newfound understanding of the amazing world of honey bees and artisanal honey. If you enjoy learning about the food you eat, or would like to better utilize honey in your kitchen, I highly recommend attending one of Marina's honey tastings. I can tell you one thing for sure...I will never look at honey the same way again.
Scallops with Red Bee® Honey Lime Marinade
Prep Time: 20 minutes
2 tablespoons of Red Bee alfalfa honey
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
4 teaspoon lime juice
1/4 teaspoon grated lime peel
Dash of hot pepper sauce
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 lb bay scallops, calico or sea scallops
1 lime, cut in wedges
In a medium glass bowl combine honey, oil, lime peel, hot pepper sauce and salt to make marinade. Rinse and pat scallops dry with paper towel and add to marinade. Marinate scallops, stirring occasionally, up to 1 hour or cover and refrigerate. Preheat boiler. Arrange scallops and marinade in a single layer in 2 individual broiler proof dishes. Broil inches from source of heat 3-5 minutes, depending upon size of scallops, or until opaque throughout and lightly browned. Turn broil 2-3 minutes more. Serve with lime wedges and, if desired, hot crusty bread.