Honey tasting is a sweet idea

If you like wine and cheese tastings but you're looking for something new to try, then consider a honey tasting with some of the sweet stuff right from here in Florida.

I got thinking not long ago about the variety of honeys produced in our state, thanks to the large agricultural bounty produced here. At the same time, I had naively operated under the notion that most honeys tasted similar. Not true.

My initial research into honey tasting led me to read online about the 300 varieties of honey produced in the United States and the 3,000 kinds from around the world. Honeys range from lighter to heavier flavors and colors. Some of the better known varieties in the Sunshine State include tupelo, orange blossom, saw palmetto, avocado and wildflower.

I found a few articles about how to do a honey tasting, but I decided to turn to the National Honey Board, based in Firestone, Colo., for assistance. Their honey teaching curriculum recommends using at least one or two light, medium, and dark honeys each in your tasting. Although you can see what's available at your local supermarket, if you truly want to support Florida farmers, you may have to stop off at your local apiary or farmers market. The honeys at my grocery store included some made in the Southeast but also came from places as far away as the Dakotas. The National Honey Board's website has a locator that lists companies that sell honey by state.

My local gourmet market had a couple of honeys from places like Germany and Greece; the international honey angle could be an interesting taste experiment for another time.

An article on the Williams and Sonoma website talked about pairing your honey tasting with various cheese, crackers, dried fruit, and even wines.

Trying it out

So, in the name of journalistic experimentation and accuracy, I set up my honey tasting. Although I passed on the wine this one time (rarely any other time), I did set up sesame seed crackers, white cheddar cheese, golden raisins, dates, and, the stars of the show, three kinds of honey. I used orange blossom and Tupelo honeys, both from Florida; and a honey from my aunt and uncle's farm in central Virginia - just to contrast the Floridian flavors.

Sure enough, each honey had a slightly different color, ranging from light golden (Tupelo) to dark golden (orange blossom) to dark brown (Virginia farm honey).

I tasted each honey on its own and then enjoyed some on top of a cracker with cheese. The farm honey reminded me the most of syrup - sweet but bold. If you think of wines, I'd compare it to a complex red. The orange blossom made my face grimace ever slightly. I could taste an orange flavor but something about it seemed almost cloyingly sweet. It didn't taste much like a famous orange blossom honey that I wrote about a couple of months ago. I guess the lesson there is your taste reaction to a certain honey may change when it's from a different set of buzzing bees.

The last honey, the Tupelo, was my own version of Cinderella's glass slipper. It fit just right with a light taste and a sweetness I could imagine on fruit, cheese, or morning toast.

Tupelo honey is made in the Southeast for a short period in the spring each year. In north Florida, it's produced from the forests near the Apalachicola River. The honey I bought, from Tallahassee-based HoneyPax, says that it's "Totally Traceable Honey." There's a short code on the top of the bottle, and you can go online to find out exactly where your honey was made. I discovered that the honey in my bottle, labeled FL18, was apparently produced in a yard near Owl Creek. The website even shows Google maps to give me a visual. "Amid all their activity a peaceful calm resonates in the easy sway of the trees and melodic sounds of the forest. This honey seems to invite us to relax and savor the simple pleasures in life," according to the HoneyPax website. Wow. I didn't know bees were so welcoming.

So, first honey tasting experiment under my belt, I definitely recommend you do the same.