Sometimes things of the greatest consequence happen per chance. Perhaps you can say they are fated.
So it began with a catastrophic Portuguese honey harvest with yields down 70% across the country (and prices 25% up). The weather has been very unkind. ( Beekeepers tend to downplay the harvest for fear of hubris, but this year it was merited) The prospect of finding any Thyme or Heather honey in the Algarve this year was vanishingly small so my mind turned once again to Greece, mythic Greece with its legendary Thyme honeys. Being an old antiquarian displaced out of time, this was an intriguing prospect.
I had been given a contact in Holland for a man who had connections to Lesbos and some Greek beekeepers. Unable to remember his name I searched my email inbox for the word "Greece". I did not find him, instead I found a speculative email sent to me in January from someone in Greece offering me some honey. I receive many of these type of emails from around the world and usually wish them luck but have no use for them. On this occasion I wrote back and asked this stranger whether he could find me some Thyme honey from a good producer.
What followed was a deluge of enthusiastic emails from Vaggelis, who offered me all sorts of honey including a very special Oregano Lavender honey. Simply moving with the speed of the unfolding conversation I asked for samples to be sent to me whilst I was on my seasonal honey purchasing trip to Portugal.
A Taste of Honey
On the side of the road in Lisbon, parked underneath the shade of an old Sycamore tree, Tam and I laid out a blanket on the pavement and unpacked two huge boxes full of the most wonderful honey from all over Greece and proceeded with an impromptu tasting that simply delighted us. Logistically and financially this was hardly the moment, but when something truly beautiful falls into your lap it would be foolish to reject such a gift on the altar of utility and expediency (or even common sense).
Improvised honey tasting
Going to Greece was now an inevitability. There is no way that a project such as this can be done at a distance or in virtual space, it's about people and place and bees and relationships founded on trust and a handshake.
Having flown into Athens I arrived in the west coast town of Volos late at night, woke the next morning and walked out along the waters edge to familiarize myself with the town. As I approached the church at the end of the quay I heard the serene interplay of two male voices which enchanted me and drew me through the doors of this majestic, gilded and lovingly served, Byzantine Orthodox church dedicated to St Konstantin. It was a sparsely attended service but it was heart moving and I stayed for the duration and lit a candle for the blessing of all involved in this new venture.
view south from Mt Pelion
I was met by Vaggelis a tall exuberant man with an infectious smile and natural warmth. Vaggelis was to become my interpreter, broker, constant companion and friend. A good man who spared no effort to guide me and look after me. We spent a day exploring Mt Pelion, full of shops selling incredible honey. I was already getting a sense of depth and breadth of Greek honey and the immense diversity, especially of Thyme honey. The next day we would begin in earnest.
Apostolos the Scholar
Apostolos and Vaggelis
Sitting at a cafe, with the first coffee of the day, we were joined by Apostolos, a devout, scholarly, gentle man, a true purist of a beekeeper. He announced that he had come bearing treasure! . He wasn't kidding. (It is his Oregano Lavender honey that is now available to you). He showed us a sample of chestnut honey from Pelion which apparently doubles the lifespan of the bees who forage on it. (being studied at the university of Thessaloniki and he only had a few kilos this year- so we don't have any) We tasted his honey samples and then followed him the short distance to his home, a pastoral idyll full of fruit trees and beehives. Along with his lovely wife Sofia, an expert honey taster in her own right, we talked at length about all things honey and he then proceeded to open up some of his hives to show us the health of the colonies and the queens which were in his garden which were there solely to build their strength before they were taken to the mountains.
Sofia and Apostolos
We spent the rest of the afternoon, tasting and selecting or eliminating sample after sample. I was still looking for a Raw Pine honey and then I tasted an amber coloured honey completely blind. It was perfectly pleasing and I simply kept returning to it over and over, there is something about this honey, it does not shout, it has no pronounced strong notes, it was smooth, silky and utterly compelling. It turned out to be called August Pine, produced by the same producer I had already bought my Vanilla Fir honey from and was due to meet in a few days time. More about that honey later.
You reach a point of palate saturation where the brain is just exhausted from defining small sensory nuances but we now had a new Pine honey.
Vaggelis the Younger
The next day we headed south to central Greece to meet Vaggelis K, a smart, enterprising and obviously gifted beekeeper who opened up a honey jarring and brokerage company finding a market for local beekeepers internationally. He is the beekeeper who has produced our Raw Red Fir Honey from the mountains of central Greece.
He showed us his premises, some of the honey that had already been delivered, talked over endless details and finally just before we were leaving he opened up some honey samples he had just been sent, the last of which stopped us all in our tracks. It was the unfabricated look you get when you have just tasted something a bit special. It was an Arbutus and Erica Heather honey, just spectacular. The crystal structure was like a creamed honey, it had the wonderful caramel bitterness of Arbutus and was balanced by the sweetness and aromatic strength of the Heather. The texture was unbelievable. VK kindly said that if I wanted it he would defer to me or else he would buy it all. ( You have this to look forward to). I subsequently found out, unsurprisingly that it had just won a prestigious MTA Platinum award.
The next day I headed south to the Peloponnese ( the southern part of the Greek mainland) via a pilgrims journey through Delphi and eventually ended up in the small village of Epidavros, birthplace of the Magus Asclepius and his daughter the goddess Panacea,-( It is to her that we dedicate this range of honey.) a short drive away from my meeting with Panagiotos in the ancient town of Nafpoli the next day.
Panagiotos - the Good Thief.
The hives of Panagiotos resting next to orange groves.
It is hard to imagine a more dedicated and archetypal beekeeper than Panagiotos. A young gentle giant of a man, who just loves his bees. He started out his professional life as a civil engineer but a passion for bees had him saving all his income to slowly buy one hive after another. The more attention he had for his bees the more he wanted to give. Now a truly experienced and dedicated beekeeper he makes a modest living from his honey production and making beautiful hand-crafted balms from beeswax, olive oil and herbs from his land.
We talked at length and he explained many things about the nature and history of Greek honey production, the variation in practices, and the unique challenges of making both the honey varietals that I bought from him. Pine honey is the most common honey in Greece, it is the backbone of the Greek harvest, much like Raw Wild Lavender honey is in Portugal. Raw Pine honey is very much a pure honeydew, it is made by the bees foraging on the sweet secretions of insects who feed on the sap of the pines. It tends to be made in the autumn and is often a medium to dark amber color, it can range from robust and malty to incredibly soft and smooth with a lovely mouth-feel or texture. This amber coloured incredibly smooth Raw Pine honey, is a little unique, it is only produced in the month of August in the Eastern region of Evvia. It is the product of a unique synergy of the Pine trees and the Insects at this time of year in this place. Beekeepers who encounter it, know exactly what it is because of these unique characteristics.
He then went on to explain the unique challenges of producing Vanilla fir honey. It is the only Greek honey with a DOP, it comes from four mountains in Greece and nowhere else on earth. It is notoriously hard to make, because the insect secretions , "the vanilla" are hard and difficult for the bees to feed on and the insect itself is remarkably fragile and is often wiped out by excessive rain or moisture. It does not come every year, very often it fails completely and the locations of these hives in Arcadia are challenging places to move hives in and out of. As a consequence it is expensive and rare and highly prized. This Raw Vanilla Fir honey is pearlescent in appearance, thick and gooey in texture; a super-rich honey, with distinct vanilla notes and hardly any discernible acidity. Pure luxury. Pure medicine.
Panagiotos knows every single one of his many hives, He knows the state of the colony, the health and age of every queen. He rests his bees and strengthens them in Orange groves before taking them to the mountains, he spares no effort to look after his bees with a dedication and passion I have rarely encountered. Bees and humans have a deeply symbiotic relationship, done rightly it is one of care and mutuality. He humourously calls himself "a good thief". He is not wrong. He is also very shy, and did not want a picture of himself taken, but here below are his hives being rested in orange groves, ( He is standing just out of the frame)
It was sadly just not possible to meet Isabella, the beautiful young beekeeper from Kalymnos island who produced the unique Raw Kalymnos Thyme honey which you will soon be able to buy, but I have copied a letter from her below, which gives you an idea of what went into producing this incredibly aromatic highly concentrated and undoubtedly medicinal honey. Pure Gold. Pure medicine.
Letter from Isabella S.
The process until the honey is produced in the hive and reaches consumption was more difficult than I initially imagined. It is a job that requires a lot of physical strength and a lot of patience. The hours you have to devote are too many and the fatigue is indescribable. But the result rewards you. As soon as you bond with the bees and this work, you can understand that the way of life of the bee and how a bee works is admirable.
So every year since then, many times with losses and difficulties, I try with love, patience and persistence, to make this precious gift of nature called thyme honey known to the younger generation, because it should be allowed to be enjoyed in every home. It is a wonder of nature. A miracle, which we are all entitled to have."
Isabella and her hives
As I write all the honey has now been jarred in Greece, at source, coarse filtered and utterly unprocessed, as we say from "Hive to Jar". It has finally arrived in the UK and is now available to buy here.
We have tried to curate and create a range of truly exceptional honeys at a time when people are feeling the pinch financially (us included) which seems somewhat counter intuitive, however at a time when we are being pushed and propagandized into consuming, industrial food with poor health and welfare standards, GMOs and Ultra-processed lab grown foods (and even bugs and insects) on the altar of utility and virtue, we think it is more important than ever to support real, true, authentic and lovingly produced honeys which have been a continuous gift to humans since antiquity and beyond. It is hard to think of a more depthful artisanal tradition than that of Greek beekeeping which has been continuous since antiquity. We hope you will find virtue, pleasure and great benefit in enjoying this Rare and Raw range of Greek Heritage honey, some the very best there is to be found anywhere on earth.