September 11, 2010

death to the generic! The subculture of honey where varieties abound

In the boutique of Miel Morand in Saint Thomas Québec I had a sort of flash, a sort of regret, and excitement all in one instant. Although Miel Morand is at much serious honey making as it is marketing, I was thinking about Le petit Jardin de l'abeille which I visited last summer in Maria Gaspésie. Only now I realized how intense and integrating their work is. My regret was that wished I would have stayed longer and learnt more. My excitement was that although it may take me longer than other people I sometime's get it, albeit in a delayed sort of way. Whereas Morand has three varieties of honey, Trèfle, Sarrasin and Fleurs Sauvage with no presence to really explain much, Le Petit Jardin known as Au Rucher des Framboisiers has 9 to 10 and a wealth of overwhelming information. I love Morand's honey, without a doubt, but at that moment I had an urge to be back in Maria close to the Baie des Chaleurs tasting each honey as one does a wine while listening to the owner John Forest tell us about the medicinal qualities of each varietal. Forest's raw, unpasteurized, certified organic honey was incredibly tasteful, each one with its distinct character and expression. I also remember as he explained each step of the season's floral production to us that there was something defiant in his approach. This subculture, I realized, was not about the mere act of producing honey, it was about a way of living, about a way of defying the generic.

Forest's varieties are bleuets, centaurée, épilobe, fleurs sauvages, framboise, pissenlit, sarrasin, trèfle, verge d'or with its taste between trèfle and sarrasin. These varietals each come with their distinctive nose, taste and colour. The reason for this control is in part the immense garden that John and his wife Panyong have been planting. This passion for horticulture has brought together one of the largest concentration of melliferous plants, which is obviously reflected in the honey, and the ability to have so many varietals. One is as important as the other, knowing the plant is knowing the honey. Then there was discussion of how honey was made with incredible statistics, such as for 1kg of honey, there is a traveled distance of about 40 000km and 5.5 million flowers involved. As with most things, a good local, unpasteurized honey is everything but generic.

I told him that my favorite honey was the intensely dark sarrasin with woodsy earth tones. He smiled and told me that it was very good for my bone structure and blood circulation and as an aside whispering that it was also good for hypertension and hemorrhoids. I did not ask about internal or external application, content to know that between the wine and the honey my blood must be flowing pretty nicely.

As with the Corsican honey, the only one with an AOC, I hope one day to see Forest's honey with a similar appelation as an expression of the Gaspésienne ecosystem and his intense work with varietals.

I also remembered talking to Gilles Baillargeon, apiculteur professionnel from Ste Geneviève de Berthier, and as I was leaving his house he said to me that a tablespoon of honey a day will ensure me long life. I do not think he was trying to sell me a lifetime's supply of nectar because I had bought his last jar, but rather there it was again, that sort of cult with many beekeepers, a sort of ancient on going subculture, the subculture of honey, and I felt proud to be a partake in it.

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