The ancient Greek tradition of beekeeping has brought to us exceptional honeys from the light, floral honeys of spring, to the rich, dark woody honeys of autumn.
The Greek Beekeepers
The Bee Whisperers of ancient Greece invented apiculture, crafting clay jars for their hives and moving them throughout the countryside so the bees could enjoy the gifts of flowers and herbs in bloom. Over time, the beekeepers developed varietals that reflected both the long history of bee culture and the rich biodiversity and natural ecosystem of the Greek Islands.
Ever walked through a farmer’s market when the herbs are in, touching leaves and smelling the rich scents? The islands of the Mediterranean smell like that in the morning when the sun is coming up and the dew is drying. The wind passes over the olive and thyme growing wild among the granite cliffs, inviting the bees to come visit. The stubborn trees that cling to the rocky shorelines, leaning against the wind, develop a fierceness that bees adore. And that we also adore, because the bees leave lovely traces of this biodiversity, the wild landscape of Greece, in every drop of their honey. And they share their honey with us.
Honey and Terroir
The best honeys reflect the terroir of the landscape and the care with which they’re processed. Honey from the Mediterranean countries, especially Greece, Italy, and Spain, reflects the unique natural environment, including long days of sunshine, low humidity, salty sea breezes, temperate summers, and the biodiverse landscape that was planted and thriving long before monoculture and pesticide use changed the natural diversity of newer landscapes. The landscape of the Mediterranean islands includes olive and chestnut trees, lemon and orange, wild herbs, artichokes, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant. Homesteads have chickens for fresh eggs and goats and sheep for milk and cheese.
The way the honey is processed also reflects the care of the connoisseur. The terroir and regional varietal honeys are sources of pride and probably village competition; it would not occur to these producers to dilute their honey to sell more, or use techniques such as pressure filtering or heat to extract more honey from the comb. Even the newest apiculturist understands that those mechanical processes change the flavor and texture of honey. Traditional methods, while they take time and the work of skilled hands, reflect the best practices for flavor. That’s why we import only raw, wild, single origin artisanal honeys from Greece.
The Wild Honeys
Flavors range from the light, floral and aromatic honeys made from early spring flowers, to the herbaceous honeys that mix aromatics with complex flavors, through the strongly flavored, mineral-spice-resin honeys of deep autumn.
Spring and Summer Flowers
While bees can travel two miles or more, searching for the pollen they want, positioning hives near a particular variety of blooms will generally garner honey that is strongly in the nature of those blooms. When the oranges are blossoming, the sweetness of the fragrance draws every bee within miles. The wildflowers and mountain meadows of the islands bring their delicate flavors to the terroir of the honeys made from summer flowers.
Thyme and Herbal Honeys
When the thyme puts out its tiny purple and lavender flowers, with their spicy-sweet fragrance, the bees are all over the hive, making thyme honey. Sage, wild heather, and rosemary are summer blooms that produce aromatic herbal honeys that strongly reflect the terroir. They bloom for such a short time that the herbal honeys of summer are some of the rarest. The thyme is delicate and complex, the flavor unique.
Pine and Fir Honeys
The dark honeys, made from pine and fir, rich with mineral and resin flavors, are perfect autumn honeys for the flavors of winter squash, dark roast game, wild rice. Fir honey from the island of Evia is some of the rarest and most interesting of the Greek honeys. It is particularly popular in teas.
The chestnut honeys are nutty and peppery, with a resiny-aroma that is not found outside of the islands. Wild chestnut trees like these don’t grow anywhere else, and certainty not on islands covered in wild rosemary and sage, warmed by the Mediterranean sun. Chestnut honey, along with thyme, is the most sought-after honey in Greece; it pairs especially well with strong and assertive cheese. Cooks love to add a tiny bit of chestnut honey to cake batter for the moistness and nuttiness it adds.
A beautifully biodiverse landscape, a warm, sunny climate, careful handcrafting, and an exceptionally long tradition of apiculture have given the world the gift of the Greek varietals. We can taste the secret heart of their beautiful land in a teaspoonful of honey.