I am somewhat of a honey hoarder. I say this to myself as I look at the many half used jars of honey in my cupboard that I have collected from all corners of the Earth.
I buy honey everywhere I travel. I have Bhutanese honey, Italian honey, French honey, Upstate New York honey, Mexican honey and now Brooklyn Honey after the city has lifted a decade old ban on beekeeping in the city.
This hording would be ok if I just consumed all the honey I purchase, but you see… I like to keep some of the more special jars just to look at because they are so beautiful!
To me honey is the ultimate gift to bring back from afar; it is the sweetest way to later remember a trip. It is available practically everywhere, you need only to open your eyes and it will find you.
I have jars of honey I have purchased simply for their sheer beauty. One of these is a small glass purchased at a famers market in the South of France. I admit to finally eating this honey, but I still have the empty jar, and the hand painted bee reminds me of that trip. Another I am particularly partial to is from France as well, and the typography and color of the honey made me swoon. It has long since separated out into two distinct and beautiful layers, and I have every intention of leaving it that way.
The most interesting thing about honey is the wide spectum of flavors and scents. Honey ranges in color from dark brown to almost black to the palest of whites and everthing in between. Some honey is dark and robust while others are the color of straw with flavors of maritime flowers and sea spray.
The flavor and color of the honey is dependent on what the bees are eating. The nectar of the flowers mixes with enzymes from the bee's saliva to create a sticky liquid that is honey. The bees then come back to the hives and deposit the liquid into the hives. The flavors come through accordingly. Honey is the perfect litmus test to the the bee's immediate surroundings be it herbascious or otherwise. Take for instance the the Red Hook honey, Bees where found to be producing red honey tinted with flavor of maraschino cherries because they were greedily drinking up the syrup from the Red Hook Brooklyn maraschino cherry plant! According to an article in The New York Times Andrew Coté, the leader of the New York City Beekeepers Association, has said
“Bees will forage from any sweet liquid in their flight path for up to three miles,” Mr. Coté said. While he has not yet visited the factory, he said that the bees might be drinking from its runoff, and that solving the problem “could be as easy as putting up some screens, or providing a closer source of sweet nectar.”
The Brooklyn beekeepers were somewhat dissapointed to find that thier bees had produced a cloying dye riddled substance, but this just goes to show you how honey is the perfect example of surrounding environments. Hopefully the problem has been solved!
You can imagine that bees that frequent such a factory in Brooklyn will produce vastly different tasting honey than bees that live in sunlit pine forests of Italy or in the wide open wild flowered fields of Southern France or the windswept hills of Sardinia.
Bees are the ultimate mixologists. Local honey flavors can range from any of the following: sea, pine, chestnut, sunflower, truffle, forest, blackberry, mint, orange blossom, clover, eucalyptus, cardoon, millefiori, corbezzolo, and in the case of the Brooklyn bees... maraschino. These are only a few of the local flavors you might find if you choose to branch out beyond the good old honey bear.
For me, honey is a vehicle or the starting point for inspiration when it comes to cooking. I am usually first inspired by the flavor of honey, then comes the food. You can't go wrong with a combination of fresh ricotta and honey.
A couple years ago I found the recipe below in Gourmet, and I have been making it ever since! It really couldn't be easier.
I always start with this simple recipe. This ricotta is delicious in fresh pasta or on a crostini, it is really good paired with toasted semolina raisin bread or fresh rhubarb compote. be inspired and go crazy!
below I made fresh ricotta crostiini with millefiore (a thousand flowers) honey and thyme and coffee with chestnut honey. My friend Paola always starts her day with honey in her coffee.
All of the gorgeous handmade ceramics used in this shoot are from the very talented michele michael of elephant ceramics. Food inspires me but so do vessels...but that is another story altogether. Look for her very coveted sales on line and follow her blog at http://elephantceramics.blogspot.com/, be quick because she sells out fast!
Richard Ferretti's fresh riccotta from Gourmet 2006.
- 2 quarts whole milk
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Line a large sieve with a layer of heavy-duty (fine-mesh) cheesecloth and place it over a large bowl.
Slowly bring milk, cream, and salt to a rolling boil in a 6-quart heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching. Add lemon juice, then reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring constantly, until the mixture curdles, about 2 minutes.
Pour the mixture into the lined sieve and let it drain 1 hour. After discarding the liquid, chill the ricotta, covered; it will keep in the refrigerator 2 days
Crostini with fresh ricotta, honey thyme and sea salt
lightly toast some of your favorite rustic bread
spread some fresh homemade ricotta on top
drizzle with your favorite honey
add a little herb, in this case lemon thyme
and finish with a pinch of grey sea salt.
If you read Italian pick up Dizionario Dei Mieli Nomadi from Liccu Manias, the leading authority on honey in Italy! I am definitely visiting his farm next time I am in Sardinia.