In-the-know chefs even team with local beekeepers to incorporate honey’s range of flavors in their cooking, from buttery avocado notes to mild tupelos and dark buckwheat.
Scotty Schwartz, a sustainably focused chef, had his honey epiphany when Naked Bee Honey Farm beekeepers arrived at 29 South, his restaurant in Fernandina Beach, Fla., with blackberry, cherry blossom and chestnut honeys.
“Instead of a condiment, this honey is now as important an ingredient as the protein on the plate,” says Schwartz, who often finishes slow-roasted pork shanks with blackberry or chestnut honey before setting it atop polenta.
“If you’ve set up hives next to chestnuts, you’re going to get that,” he says. “If you’re set up next to cherry blossoms, the flavor is going to be totally different.”
Which is why tasting and inhaling the aroma of different types is important in deciding how to use a honey in the kitchen.
“I think all honeys are unique. some are not going to have strong floral qualities, others will,” says Polly Lappetito, executive chef at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley, Calif., which held its first educational honey summit for chefs this summer. It included a tasting of alfalfa, buckwheat, avocado, clover, sage, star thistle, eucalyptus, wildflower and orange blossom honeys.
Lappetito, who has used honey in vinaigrettes, with roasted vegetables and in semifreddos, among other dishes, urges cooks to taste and experiment: “I always think honey adds a softer sweetness to dishes.”
Or a little kick: “Take peppercorns and heat it up with the honey,” she says. “Let it infuse the honey. It adds a certain spice and heat.”
Chef and beekeeper Graham Dodds, who spent childhood summers in Scotland tending hives with his grandfather, drizzles honey on the popular bruschetta tastings at Bolsa restaurant in Dallas.
“I’ll drizzle raw honey over the top to tie it all together,” he says. Tastings might include salmon, prosciutto, tomato and goat cheese bruschetta.
Chefs aren’t the only ones intrigued by honey, of course. We each ate about 1.3 pounds of honey last year. and the National Honey Board’s Bruce Boynton says beekeeping groups around the country report increased interest in beekeeping classes.