stars in Fairmont San Jose’s most
popular menu item, a cheese and
charcuterie board garnished with
whipped, freeze-dried honey.
October/November 2018 81
Harris, director of the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center
at the Robert Mondavi Institute. Harris boasts more than 30 years
in the honey industry at Z Specialty Food.
In 2014, not long after taking the helm, Harris developed the
famous UC Davis Honey Wheel, a copyrighted tool similar to a
wine-tasting wheel available for purchase online. All sales of the
Honey Wheel help fund graduate student research
in the Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Tasting trials for design of the wheel spanned two
days and involved the collaboration of 26 professional
beekeepers, food writers, educators, and wine and
olive tasters, resulting in 99 descriptors.
“We wanted more than anything to solicit language
for describing honey, because honey isn’t just sweet:
It can be bitter; it can be almost umami flavored.
It has lots and lots of possible flavors,” Harris says.
“So now you can fast forward to last January (2017)
when we decided to actually start sensory research.
That’s what I’ve been involved with the past year.”
Harris contends that honey’s distinctive flavor
profiles derive from unique terroirs—natural elements
specific to one location—and teaches another
course called “The Sensory Evaluation of Honey.”
Many South Bay beekeepers attend. Understanding
flavor profiles also helps them educate their customers
about the difference between genuine wild honey
and counterfeit brands on the market.
“The trick for me is to be honest,” Harris says.
When highlighting a local variety, she details the
types of flowers it was collected from. “That’s what’s
so cool about wildflower honey; once you’re trained
to taste, you can pick those varietals out.”
Harris hopes to team up with the new UC Davis
Coffee Center on a potential project at its coffee
plantation in Nicaragua. “Coffee is pollinated by
honeybees. What’s really interesting is that every
coffee in every location has a different flavored honey.
So it doesn’t repeat itself.”
HONEY OF A BEVERAGE
While bees help pollinate everything from almonds
and coffee to orange trees and vineyards, their honey
provides the basis for one of the fastest growing
beverage markets in the country—meaderies.
“Traditional mead is nothing more than honey,
water and yeast,” explains former systems engineer
Mike Faul, whose Rabbit’s Foot Meadery in Sunnyvale
produces over 60,000 gallons of mead.
“We also make a style of mead called cyser, which is 50 percent
honey and 50 percent apple juice, and yet another style of mead
called braggot, which is basically beer with honey.” Rabbit’s Foot
mead can be found at Whole Foods and at more than 1,000 specialty
markets and eateries statewide from San Francisco to San Diego.
Faul got into mead-making while doing some historical research.
“Mead, of course, is one of the oldest historical beverages on the
planet. It predates pretty much every other alcoholic beverage
known to man, simply because it’s a natural source of sugar and
it doesn’t require any intervention. You just mix it with water, and
it will start spontaneously fermenting on its own.”
Like many artisan food and beverage purveyors, Faul is ever
vigilant about the source of his product. “Everything we get is
either a regional wildflower honey that comes from a specific area
in Washington state, or it’s blackberry honey from the Rogue River,
or orange-blossom honey from a beekeeper in Fresno.”
Plenty of it, too. The volume of honey needed for his commercial
operation tops 20 tons per year.
According to the 2017 Mead Industry Report a new meadery
opens on average every three days in the United States. UC Davis
Honey and Pollination Center offers a highly popular mead-making
program to address the demand.
Whether fermented and sipped from a glass, slathered over toast,
spooned into hot tea or swirled into a smoothie, honey makes a
distinctive contribution to foods and beverages, while the bees
themselves enable crops to reach maturity and reproduce.
No wonder that South Bay growers, chefs and creators of handcrafted
potions rely on the skill and dedication of our beekeepers.
From mead makers to hive keepers, culinarians to cocktail concocters,
our bees’ gifts keep on giving and offer sweet rewards for
anyone smitten by honey. n
The cheese and charcuterie
board at Fairmont San Jose;
Opposite: Bees at Santa
Cruz Bee Company