A few years ago I was visiting a beekeeper in southern Portugal. As soon as I entered his office he said " i want to show you something", he reached down and pulled out a 260g jar of Aldi "Portuguese honey" ( Mel de Portugal), He then announced indignantly that this jar cost him 1 euro and 50 cents and his conclusion was "impossivel"! .
We both knew the cost of honey production, and there is no way on gods green earth that anyone in Portugal can produce honey for that kind of cost. It had to have cost about a euro a kilo to make it to supermarket shelf at that price. Needless to say it is a blend of honeys, mostly from China, ( which is probably not really honey ) and a little bit of a local honey to lend a flavour profile and some local pollens.
Cut to earlier this year, when I went into a sales meeting in a Cheltenham health food shop to be met by a hostile shop manager, who instantly declared we were way too expensive, couldn't be bothered to taste it and was quite frankly a prize idiot. What I did find on his shelves was a jar of "organic" Squeezy honey from a well known company, which was on sale for about £2. My reaction to that is the same as Pedro's. "Impossivel". I offered to test his honey for him, but he declined.
What is written about below is the following articles is honestly the tip of an iceberg of duplicitous and semi-legal practices rife in the honey industry, which is why I would welcome a testing regime. Bear in mind the Chinese will even provide you with honey samples to pass almost any test you like including one ready for NMR testing.
There are literally hundreds of tests from honey, pesticides, contaminants, heavy metals, antibiotics, sugar composition, markers of adulteration etc etc. You have to be selective about testing, so you test for the things that you are likely to find. If its comes from a country with significant GMO usage like Argentina or Mexico, you would test from GMO's and Glyphosate. If its from India, you might test for antibiotics or heavy metals, If from China, the very least would be all the different adulteration tests possible etc. Conclusion is - you typically only find what you are looking for.
Honey supply chains can be so opaque that it can be impossible to know where honey has actually originated from and whether it has been altered, processed or adulterated in some way on its journey to your spoon.
Trust cannot be guaranteed by labels and standards and even testing regimes alone, real trust comes from honest people, fair and ethical practices, real provenance and transparency. We like to think that that is the way we operate.
So if you have stumbled upon this site, I would like to assure you that the honey we are selling you is at a fair and equitable price, which has come from a single independent source, which pays the beekeepers well and brings an honest and delicious product to your kitchen table.
A couple of links below just to show the nature of the honey business.
In 2011 we were living and working in the fantastic, eclectic town of Taos, New Mexico in the high desert at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. Taos was home to an ancient Pueblo settlement, to Hispanic settlers from the 17th Century, and a haven for artists, vagabonds and free people in the 20th century. We lived among painters, writers, sculptors, farmers and geniuses. Our friends and fellow travelers. The 2008 recession had hit us hard and left us on one wage rather than two. I worked as a fine art print maker and could only afford to keep us in rent, food and bills. Tam's work as a freelance studio assistant to a wealthy artist and property maintenance work had all but dried up. Despite the warmth and support and friendship of my boss and others, life in this place, we had so longed to make home, was falling apart, our immigration process, after years of waiting and legal fees had ground to a halt. The immigration climate and border patrols in the neighboring states had become increasingly aggressive and punitive.
We have always been accomplished cooks and done specialist catering gigs for private parties and personal chef work on the side. A timely gig, fell into our lap and 20 dishes of finger food for 70 people and 3 days work later we traveled to Colorado for some much needed health care. Somewhere on the way back with $40 dollars left to our name, we decided to move to Portugal, to jump from the USA before we got pushed.
We sold everything we could, friends pitched in, and on 31st of October 2011 with much sadness and some trepidation we drove out of Taos with an ancient land rover and trailer in tow headed for the port of Houston, Texas 1500miles away to drop of our things and catch a plane to Lisbon. We each bought a totemic pair of handmade cowboy boots and walked out of George W Bush airport in Houston and into a new life. Whatever that might be.
Arriving in Portugal at the depth of the recession was bleak, and shocking. We pitched up with a dear friend, the only person we knew in Portugal in the Algarvian Mountain town of Monchique. After two months of being unable to find a place to live, having only a couple of months worth of money left, things were looking so dire we nearly bailed. At the very last moment we found a place to live, but the reality was, we were all but broke, we didn't speak the language and had no real transferable skills and had moved to a country in the depth of depression with the minimum wage of 3.50 an hour. It was the last roll of the dice. So we did what we always do, we hustled. We started a supper club on the mountain and that gained a following but it simply was not enough. I finished one small sculpture commission but we were down to making toothpaste or soap type financial decisions and a trip to the beach in our ancient renault was 10 euros we could ill afford. So as it was coming up to summer I listed our house for holiday rental, Tam bought some canvas disappeared into a back room for 3 days and emerged having made a micro yurt from an old beach umbrella. We camped out under the lemon trees for the summer on our lower terraces. Some very sweet people came and went, but the summer was coming to an end and the financial singularity loomed on the event horizon.
Just then we met a young Isreali ( still a dear friend) who wanted to hire us to cater a 100 bed backpacker hostel in southern Brazil. I was game, Tam was not. Cooking for drunk teenagers was the last thing she wanted to do. After ten days of resistance I finally gave in and said Ok, Brazil is off, but she had to come up with something else, not just a no. Enter the Honey
As soon as we had arrived in Monchique, we had noticed the unusual honey, sold in the markets and even on the side of the road, coming from the USA, honey had never figured large with us and we had bought the propaganda about Agave syrup, ( highly processed) . Once we tried it, we were impressed, by the depth, the balance, the sheer beauty of it. It was the ultimate distillation of Terroir. However never having been business people in our own right, we couldn't really make sense of the economics of commercialization, as we thought we would have to physically drive it to England. By the time September came around, we took another look at it and got serious about it. Our initial thought was to raise some money, buy as much as we could get, design a label and a stand, go to a Christmas market and head off to the beach in India with the proceeds to have a life rethink.
A very wealthy friend in the states lent us $4000 and with the very last money we had we booked a stall at the BBC Good Food show 2012. We did pretty well but had bought way toooo much honey, 750 kilos of it and at the end of three days we had 600kg left and 40 mins to get it out of a building with no transportation. Two cab drivers, one grumpy one friendly drove us to my mothers garage in southwest London where we stored it all. We thought we would try and sell it in farm shops in the Southeast but were firmly rebuffed by the supporters of local honey. So we packed the rental car again, headed back to London and walked into the 10 best independent health food shops with a basket of honey and the adventure started there. Bumblebee, an old haunt of both of ours from the 80's and 90's was the first place that took our honey. Thanks Ian. I am glad it was you.
Nothing was easy and two middle aged bad-backs and a books worth of adventures and trials and 8 years later, we have won two 3 Star Great Taste Awards for our Raw Wildflower and Raw Heather honey. To the bees, we owe you everything and we love you. To the beekeepers and their craft, we applaud you, to all the other helpers, our transport company, John and Paul and Phil at Algarve, and to all our loyal stockists over these years, who knew a good thing and were willing to support two people who walked into their shop with a basket and some enthusiasm thank you. To the Guild of Fine food judges who have seen fit to award us 20 stars over these 8 years we are grateful for your vindication of this humble and crazy endeavor, and last but not least to you our customers who recognize and value real quality honey and have impeccable taste :)
Tamasin and Rustom
Excuse the pun, but it's hard to avoid. It's that time of year again, the honey harvests are coming in and it is when we buy many of our honeys for the entire year. This basically entails getting in a car and visiting all the wonderful beekeepers we work with and source from, to see how things are going and to hopefully secure the very best of what is available. So far I would say it's a pretty good year and the quality across the board has been stellar.
It was a joy to be driving around the back roads of the now very dry and dusty Algarve and Alentejo. The muffled stillness of baked earth, an austere backdrop to the sleepy villages in the afternoon sun. It was good to see once again, those familiar faces and taste some superb honey. Sometimes in the midst of all the requirements of business and looming BRexit worries I just forget how deeply fortunate we are to share in this alchemical distillation of terroir; the transformation of millions of tiny drops of flower nectar into this magical, super-conscious, life giving, high art made by honey bees and dedicated artisan beekeepers who take the trouble to make mono-floral honeys.
I started off visiting one of my principal suppliers and to my dismay he has had a most terrible year, literally getting one kilo of honey per hive from over 200 hives, plenty of bees, just no honey. The western Algarve saw some now not so uncharacteristic weird weather in the spring, which saw many wildflowers just wither away before the bees had even had a chance. Which means that oddly enough this year finding a wildflower honey of character and balance has been a real challenge.
This was not a happy start, fortunately the next day, another producer only 25km away had had an excellent harvest, not in terms of overall quantity, but certainly quality and enough of it to secure a Wild lavender which I consider a perfect balance of sweetness and citric acidity. Also some rather good and very moreish wildlflower honey which has already been on my toast two days running.
Next was a visit to a new (2nd year with us) beekeeper, a young gentle giant of a man,Luis. Luis lives deep in Orange Blossom country in Silves in amongst the Orange groves, and for the second year running has produced an excellent classic floral orange blossom honey, which you will also be able to enjoy very soon.
The tricky part was always going to be the Thyme honey. The Algarvian Thyme honey comes from the central to eastern Algarve and there is a very small amount produced, and even less of the best aromatic and floral type. Sometimes I buy tiny amounts at very elevated prices, wherever I can get it, just so that we have it in stock. Earlier this year, we actually ran out much earlier than usual so I am hoping that we have perhaps done enough to secure it from three different sources. The next two weeks will tell all as that is when the rest of the Thyme harvest comes in. I tried some Spanish Thyme honey this year, the colour looked promising but it was one dimensional in comparison and not really the same honey at all. Not even close. In case you are in any doubt, I think I Algarvian Thyme honey is the best in the world,( yes every bit as good as Cretan Thyme honey) mainly because we have many species of quite rare thyme plants accompanied by a sympathetic showing of other complimentary wildflowers which all go together to make a dark, aromatic, highly floral and beautifully balanced honey. Not to mention beekeepers skilled enough to make it.
We also have a surprise this year which will be available probably only online or in shops for a short while. There is a very small amount made and it is only ever sold locally, directly by the beekeepers. This is what the Portuguese call Agua Mel, which prosaically translates as honey water and conveys nothing of the majesty of this amazing substance. Agua Mel is made by taking all of the cappings and comb from the honey extraction and squeezing it out in a press and then gentle simmering it for up to 10 hours. The result is spectacular, a thick black propolis rich, molasses like substance which the beekeepers swear by for all infections and ill health. It is a painstaking labour of love and only found in the Algarve and Alentejo regions of Portugal south of the Tagus. Did I mention it, It is absolutely delicious. Look out for it here in Late September. I think I'm going to call it Alentejo Black Gold.
Much of this new honey will find its way on to the shelves from September through till November when we should have run out of the previous years stock.
Till the next time.