We’re confident that bees are an important part of our ecosystem, but as consumers, we’re not always sure whether buying honey is helping, or hurting them. We spoke to Blaine Campbell from Honey I’m Home about terroir, sustainability, and honey, in order to find out how to get the best quality produce in a way which was sustainable and delicious.
Honey I'm Home
After beginning their beekeeping careers in 2010, Blaine and her husband Tristan suddenly found themselves with a huge influx of honey, they had more than they could give away to friends and family, and took a friend’s suggestion to sell at a local market. Seven years later, Blaine has just last month given up their last remaining market space, and is celebrating the second birthday of their Maylands store. Their store showcases West Australian honey from several hives of their own in addition to 5-6 similar sized producers, and 4-5 local retirees who keep their bees as a hobby but in some years still produce more honey than they can give away.
One side of the store is dedicated entirely to honey "just as the bees make it", whilst the wall opposite hosts gourmet lines including infused and whipper honeys alongside beeswax products. They even work with a local gelato maker to sell honey gelato in store. Working small and local allows Blaine to be sure that the people they represent in their store have similar values to their own, they can be sure that the apiarists they buy honey from are following similar beekeeping and hive management practices to their own, and that the artisans and producers they collaborate with are using local ingredients wherever possible, and employing sustainable practices.
Even the staff at Honey I’m Home are encouraged to live and breathe bees, “You can always talk to a beekeeper in our shop.” said Blaine "We try to get all of our employees into the hives so you can bring your ‘burning bee question’ to the shop at any time.”
All of the honey at Honey I’m Home is raw and filtered only though mesh bags to remove any large chunks of wax. The resulting honey is nuanced and complex, tasting almost nothing like the honey you’d find at a supermarket. Blaine and the rest of the crew are more than happy to have you taste each of their honeys which vary remarkably from their different locations and flowers. "We’re primary producers, and so we’re dependent on what happened a year ago, even up to a decade ago.” said Blaine, "Things like soil, climate, topography and species variation all contribute to the honey.”
As there is no processing applied to the honey from the hives to the store, their honey is more likely than their commercial counterparts to crystallise. Crystallisation is a natural and reversible process which happens to all honey over time as the sucrose content begins to build lattices. Honey has an unlimited shelf life, so Blaine urges consumers not to throw out their honey when they see a few crystals.
The bees from which honey is harvested are European species which have evolved to create as much surplus honey as possible in the three months of European summer, in order to survive the nine months in which it is too cold, wet and windy to fly. In Australia, we are lucky to have a much longer period of fine weather, and because of this our honey bees are the most productive in the world.
"The biological imperative of a honey bee is to make as much honey as they possibly can. When there’s a lot of honey to bring in, they just keep bringing it in, and if they fill up a hive or a tree hollow or your chimney, they split up and make another hive and make more honey. The only way to deprive them is to leave them without enough honey over winter."
“We don’t process our honey, so the hard part is getting the bees to the stage where they’re ready to give honey to us.” Blaine told us. The tools and processes of beekeeping have changed remarkably little in hundreds of years, but modern beekeepers are able to use sources like Google Maps and FloraBase where they would previously have to rely solely on local knowledge. “We’re a bit more flexible in that we're farmers without farms,” said Blaine, “If there aren’t any flowers in one place we can move elsewhere.”
How We Use Honey
Since discovering Honey I’m Home, we’ve found ourselves using more honey than ever before. Their the Maylands store is just 50 metres from The Woodfired Baker, and their honey shows beautifully on a slice of sourdough rye. We’ve taken to stirring honey into our ‘Cure All’ Chai and making a honey syrup for cocktails like the Bee’s Knees. Our favourite use for raw honey has to be putting an open jar or a piece of honeycomb on a cheeseboard, honey gives beautiful floral notes to soft cheese and cuts through the mould notes in blue cheeses.