by Marie Nicola
I am not someone who considers herself a foodie, a food snob or a connoisseur of the industry – regardless of how many chefs I may have dated. I do consider myself a food culture enthusiast on a relentless quest to uncover the flavours that defined my childhood – honey being the biggest one.
Since relocating to Toronto several years ago from Prince Edward Island, I found myself scouring the shelves of local supermarkets simply trying to locate a single jar of honey. No conventional brand name will do, many of these brands are labeled Canada No. 1 but often are mixed with inferior mass produced honey from other countries. I’m on a quest for the good stuff – Canadian artisanal honey to be precise.
Grocery stores attempt to woo consumers to purchase organic or pale alfalfa and clover honey like they are the apex of the honey world. Here’s the truth, the Canadian Prairies grow alfalfa and clover like gangbusters so it’s incredibly easy to mass produce. In terms of organic, unless a farmer can guarantee that each property in a 55,000 mile radius of their hives is organic, they cannot regulate it. So no, I don’t buy into the fallacy of organic, or the pretty packaging of grocery store brands. The good stuff is locally produced honey that has a dark hue, thick texture, robust flavor and if the label is printed on the home ink jet – all the better!.
You see, locally produced honey, besides tasting better, can quell seasonal allergies, it contains tons of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, antibacterial properties and is a natural sweetener. Unfortunately, the challenge in Toronto is a city by-law that prohibits a hive 30 meters of an urban dwelling. Regardless, secret apiaries have existed underneath the Gardiner Expressway and currently, Foodshare maintains several hives on the rooftop garden of The Royal York Hotel. The honey is available for purchase by contacting Foodshare through their website: http://www.foodshare.net/garden14.htm
Now, if you’re like me and you want the rarity of locally produced honey but aren’t interested in the hassle of arranging a mail order for it, a number of local apiaries do exist on the outskirts of the GTA. Beekeepers like Bees Universe and Dutchman’s Gold can be purchased within the city limits and offer some of the best honey available in Ontario.
In the over 23 farmers markets operating around the city (visit tfmn.ca for a complete list), Bees Universe can be found at 14. Pop over to Dufferin Grove Organic Farmers Market on any Thursday during the summer from 3pm-7pm to grab a jar of Bee Universe’s Wildflower Honey. Because Bees Universe does not heat or filter their honey it is considered “raw” therefore, small crystals will form if not kept at room temperature. Honey is a natural preservative, so crystallization is not a sign that the honey has gone off.
However, my personal favorite is found on the bottom shelf at The Big Carrot on the Danforth. Dutchman’s Gold Summer Blossom Honey is a golden sweet pure honey with spicy notes and a hint of meadow blossoms. I drink it in tea, sweeten cakes with it, drizzle it over cheese or just eat by the spoonful. So far, Dutchman’s Gold is my favorite all rounder that comes really close to emulating the flavor of my PEI Honey.
Now say it with me, the best honey is locally produced Canadian artisanal honey. You don’t need to be a girl from Prince Edward Island with an eye for young chefs to figure that one out – you just need to go and try it yourself!
If you need more reference go to http://www.ontariobee.com/ and check out producers in your area.