Sunday, March 6, 2011

Honey, please pass the cheese

I collect honey.  To those of you who have been in my company long enough, the fact that I collect things shouldn't surprise you.  But collecting honey is a little, well, different.  It's like collecting salt (which I also do).  Currently, I have 18 different varieties of honey (down from 22 because some were really good).  And those of you who know how to please me best bring me honey from your travels, which I really appreciate.  I have received honey from Spain, from Michigan, from Texas, from North Carolina, and from many other places. 

As I survey my collection of blended and monofloral honeys, I find that I favor the monoflorals.  Some of my favorites: lavender honey and thyme honey, both from Greece; Acacia honey from Hungary; Rata honey from New Zealand; Purple Sage Honey from New Mexico; Avocado Blossom Honey from California (a birthday gift from my friend Thrint); and of course, Tupelo honey from the northwest riverbanks of Florida (from my sister-in-law).  Tupelo is distinctive for its buttery, clean taste and it never crystalizes, which makes it ideal for keeping over a long period of time (like when you don't want to share).

There are two other monoflorals that I think deserve extra attention.  They are polar opposites in their attributes.  The first, Kiawe honey from Hawaii, is almost pure opague white, thick and extremely fragrant.  It melts on the tongue in an unctious, floral veil.  It is processed at very low temperatures to retain the bouquet.  When I received my first jar, I had to stop myself from consuming it all.  It is literally that luscious.  Its fragrance is incomparable.

The second honey, and the one I think is the most remarkable, is Tasmanian leatherwood honey.  It is dark and opaque (again, because of careful processing) and has a deep, woodsy, almost nutty taste.  It is, to me, the most unique honey I have ever tasted.  It reminds me in some ways of truffles that have been dipped in dulce de leche.

Honey is a lot like wine.  When different varietals are blended, you will get rounder, softer characteristics.  When only one varietal is present, it speaks for itself.  Honey and wine also both depend on terroir to lend them their distinctive characteristics.  For instance, a Pinot Noir from Oregon is very different than a pinot noir from France's Burgundy region.  In this same way, lavender honey from Greece is very different from lavender honey from the Texas Hill Country.  Yes, they're derived from the same or similar plant source, but the climate, soil, and differences in growing and harvesting techniques can yield completely different results.

One day, I plan to have my own beehives.  I've been studying and thinking about this for years.  Beekeeping is relatively easy and inexpensive.  It encourages pollination, increases the dangerously low bee population, and of course, hive products have multiple health benefits.  Currently, I'm raising several loquat trees, which are always covered in bees while they're in bloom.  I've never tasted loquat honey, but the sweet intensity when the trees are in bloom is a good indication of what I can expect.  I'm hoping I'm creating a good habitat for my future bee friends.

I've included some recipes and ideas for how to expand your experiences with honey beyond Souix Bee or that little plastic squeeze bottle shaped like a bear that you have in your pantry.  I hope you enjoy sampling different kinds of honey as much as I do.

What kind of wine to serve with cheese and honey?  Of course, it depends on your cheese, your honey, and your taste, but good bets are late harvest Riesling, Chenin Blanc, perhaps some older Vouvrays, and in some cases an orange muscat or a sweeter Moscato might be a good choice.  Or try an ice wine, a wine that has been made after the grapes have been exposed to frost or have frozen on the vine.  Other classic choices are Sauternes, tawny Port and Vin Santo.  I also think that some sherries with nutty tones, like an Amantillado, might be delicious.  In any event, when you've chosen your cheese and your honey, check with your wine guys at Spec's.  The general advice is that the wine must balance the honey.  Since the honey is intensely sweet in most cases, the wine must stand up to it.  A dessert wine that is exposed to botrytis (aka Noble Rot) is usually a good bet because of the sugar level.

May your tastebuds dance!

Blue Cheese Napoleons with Tasmanian Leatherwood Honey

The idea for this appetizer came from Lynne Rosetto Kasper's NPR radio program The Splendid Table and they are truly addictive for the blue cheese lover...

1 17 oz. pkg. frozen puff pastry (like Pepperidge Farm)
4 to 8 oz. of mild blue cheese (like Maytag), crumbled
1/2 to 1 cup shelled chopped pistachios
Tasmanian leatherwood honey, warmed (or substitute any honey, such as Avocado Blossom or Orange Blossom)

Thaw puff pastry according to package directions, cut into small squares about 1 ½  X 1 ½ ”, brush with butter and bake on a lightly greased backing sheet for about 10 to 12 minutes at 425 degrees.  Watch so squares don't burn.  Cool completely.

Assembly:  Split puff pastry squares in two layers, crumble blue cheese over the bottom layer, top with second layer, crumble more blue cheese, sprinkle with pistachios.  Drizzle with honey.

Makes about 60 appetizers.  Wine suggestion: a Hungarian Tokaji

Assorted Cheeses with Assorted Honeys

Cheese and honey make a great appetizer, just use a light hand when drizzling the honey.  Try these pairings:

Manchego with White Truffle Honey   (try this with Amantillado sherry)

Chevre, Montrachet, or Humboldt Fog with Lavender Honey  (try this with a late harvest Riesling)

Ricotta Salata with Orange Blossom Honey  (try this with a dry orange muscat)

Aged Cheddar, Gruyere or Grana Padano with Chestnut or Buckwheat Honey   (try this with a sweet Vin Santo)

Castelmagno with Acacia Honey  (try this with an ice wine)

Gorgonzola with Clover Honey   (try this with a white or tawny Port)

And one more appetizer to try:  Stuffed Figs with Honey Balsamic Syrup
          .....try this with a tawny port......

Link to:

No comments:

Post a Comment