On July 22nd we hosted our second annual honey tasting, complete with a bee school session! We were fortunate to have some basswood and chicory honeys in addition to our usual clover, wildflower and buckwheat honeys. We paired our honeys with a selection of four local cheeses, local blueberries and apples, local bacon, baguette, walnuts, pecans and almonds.
Before our event we visited Gunn's Hill Artisan Cheese and picked up some of their award winning 5 Brothers firm cheese. We also stopped by Mountain Oak Cheese and chose their Farmstead Smoked Gouda, followed by Oak Grove Cheese for some Peppercorn American Brick cheese. Our final cheese, a mild Gouda, came from the Norwich Deli & Bakery. We will delve into our honeys and food pairings below, and another blog post will discuss the art of hosting a formal or informal honey tasting!
Grassy but still floral, clover honey is the mildest honey our bees produce. The typical flavours most people notice with clover honeys are warm notes of butterscotch and beeswax; and distinctive notes of vanilla and toffee, depending on the region in which it was produced. Because our clover honey often also contains alfalfa blossom honey, you may have noticed vegetal flavours/spicy hay during the tasting.
For our tasting, I paired clover honey with the mild Gouda as well as the Farmstead Smoked Gouda. With the mild Gouda the waxy and floral flavours of the clover were more noticeable for me, while with the Farmstead Smoked Gouda the clover flavours were nicely complemented and built upon by the smokey cheese. With regards to the other pairing foods, I preferred pecans or walnuts with the clover, and enjoyed blueberries and apple slices equally. I often like to pair clover honey with Brie or unripened Chèvre as well.
A unique honey, a true chicory honey is said to be yellow in colour and have a bitterness to it. Ours was a mild chicory, meaning that it was a mix of chicory and other blossoms, such as clover, that were blooming at the same time. You may have noticed that this honey seemed less sweet and had toasty/yeast/bready notes. When asked to describe it in comparison to our clover honey, my sister said that it is a "forest", while clover honey is a "meadow".
We paired our chicory honey with the 5 Brothers firm cheese. This cheese was our favourite, and to be honest, I found that it paired well with all of our honeys! The cheese is a cross between a Gouda and an Appenzeller, with a smooth creaminess, some sweetness and robust flavours due to cedar planks used during aging. Chicory honey would also pair well with mild Goudas, Bries and Chèvres, as well as pecans and pears.
Basswood honey, sometimes know as linden blossom honey, has unique notes of buttery popcorn and waxiness, with a fruity finish that reminds some people of lychee. Some people taste metallic or bloody/irony notes rather than the buttery, fruity notes, so it is an interesting honey to discuss after tasting. This year, our basswood honey was on the mild side because the bees also brought in some wildflower nectars with it, which we could tell because a strong basswood honey is very pale yellow in colour. This year the honey tasted like basswood honey but was the more golden colour typical of our wildflower honey.
We paired our basswood honey mainly with the 5 Brothers firm cheese and the Farmstead Smoked Gouda, but it also paired well with the mild Gouda. I found that the buttery/waxy notes were emphasized when I paired basswood and 5 Brothers cheese, while the pairing with the Farmstead Smoked seemed to blend the flavours. When paired with the mild Gouda, I noticed the fruity flavours of the basswood. Basswood honey also paired well with apple slices, blueberries, pecans and walnuts, and I have enjoyed it with Brie, Chèvre, and cashews in the past as well.
Honey bees gather nectar from many different flowers, and every region has its own unique flowers. Therefore, our wildflower honey sometimes changes a bit year to year. More often than not, our customers notice caramel and maple flavour notes, and a stronger, sometimes barnyard scent.
We paired our wildflower honey with the Farmstead Smoked Gouda, thought it was also a great pairing with all of the other cheeses as well. I found that the Farmstead Smoked and the wildflower honey made for a great combination, the honey making the smoked flavour seem milder and the cheese matching well with the caramel and floral notes. Wildflower honeys are also often paired with sliced apples, mild blue cheeses, red wines, fresh figs and walnuts.
Deep and rich, buckwheat honey has notes of burnt caramel and molasses; maybe chocolate and cherries. It definitely smells musty and strongly barnyard scented, to the point that some people are turned off. Buckwheat honeys are usually more expensive because farmers don’t grow buckwheat often in Ontario anymore.
Our buckwheat honey had the strongest flavour of all the varietals at the tasting, so we gave it a special pairing with Peppercorn American Brick cheese. This cheese was quite peppery on it's own, which I found a refreshing change, though I wouldn't want to purchase it in large volumes frequently. It paired really well with the buckwheat, which toned down the pepperiness of the cheese and allowed the buckwheat to showcase its stronger flavours. We also paired buckwheat with local bacon prepared by Sage Kitchens at Lynn River Farm, and local Sleepy Monk's Own coffee from Baden Coffee. The buckwheat adds a lovely flavour to coffee without using any creamers, while bacon and buckwheat are a nice treat for the tastebuds! Buckwheat honey seems to be a great breakfast honey, as it reportedly also pairs well with mascarpone and crêpes.
The term "terroir" applies as much to honey as wine, chocolate, and olive oil—earth and air have profound effects on its flavor, and there is an increasing trend around tasting honeys in a similar manner to wine tastings. You can find books about honey varietals and honey tasting such as The Honey Connoisseur, which is a very informative book; though it is written about honeys in United States and therefore not as applicable to Canadian honeys as I was hoping. However, it does have great information about hosting honey tastings, so I certainly do not regret my purchase.
I also purchased a honey tasting wheel, which is similar to a wine tasting wheel, from the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center. So far, the wheel has been useful for formal tasting settings but is not at all necessary for a fun informal tasting.
My next blog post will discuss how to host your own honey tasting and the information I have researched about the up-and-coming trend of honey tasting!