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.