Honey isn't new, of course. Quite the opposite; the stuff is positively prehistoric. What is new is our understanding of just how precious it and its makers – European honeybees – are. Add to that a fresh approach to jazzing it up with spices; the availability of honeys from far-flung places; exciting, local monoflorals; and the threat of bee colony collapse, and we have one very bittersweet and rather sticky situation. Here are three new ways to enjoy this natural wonder.
Mike's Hot Honey
After tasting chili-pepper-infused honey in Brazil, Michael Kurtz started playing around at home in Brooklyn, N.Y., with his own infusion of honey and chilis. That was in 2003; it's taken him this long to get the perfect balance of heat and sweet. Kurtz uses raw honey from apiaries around New York and New Jersey and, not surprisingly, likes to see it drizzled on just about anything – chicken, ribs, biscuits, salads, fruits, cheeses, cocktails, marinades, ice cream – but his first and favourite delivery system is a slice of New York pizza. Made from three ingredients – honey, chilies and vinegar – his lovely, dark-amber condiment is pretty darned hot, and the vinegar adds a subtle background tang. Try it with something fatty – pork, for instance, any way you slice it – to soften the bite. $10 for 340 grams from mikeshothoney.com
Terre Bleu Lavender Honey
Farmers will tell you that everything is connected. And that just about everything we eat is connected to the bees. At Terre Bleu Lavender Farm in Campbellville, Ont., the symbiotic relationship between pollinator, plant and person is impossible to miss. Here, a cluster of purple-painted hives stand amid 60 rolling acres of lavender, where 50,000 bees fan out to gorge on pollen and nectar. The honey they produce is gorgeous. Extracted right at the farm, the freshness of it is unmistakable – the flavour of beeswax comes through – and the floral notes of lavender are subtle but definite. This is the kind of honey that must be tasted straight up on a spoon first, then drizzled over top-notch vanilla ice cream. $25 for 212 millilitres from terrebleu.ca
Melia Greek Wild Forest Honey
It's as thick as molasses and a spoonful of this deep, dark, luscious stuff requires chewing – that's right, like toffee. It's bottled in Athens, but bees collect the nectar from several species of trees, herbs and flowers that grow wild in the surrounding forests. Its unique and complex flavour is akin to cooked maple syrup with hints of burned sugar and pine. One degree away from candy, and strong enough to tackle sharp or stinky cheese, serve this solo – seriously, bring it to the table and hand out spoons – or with a cheese plate. $9 for 280 grams from meliafresh.com