A rich, unpasteurised forest honey from the Greek Taygetos mountains
“There are two main types of honey: nectar honey and forest honey,” says Harry at Oliveology. “Chestnut honey is forest honey. Nectar honeys are what most people are familiar with, whereby the bees head out from the hive to collect nectar from flowers and blossoms. With forest honey, the bees are not collecting nectar, but a substance called honeydew, which can only be found in and around trees.”
As with most rules, there is an exception: early in the year when the chestnut trees are in flower, the bees will collect nectar from the chestnut trees’ blossoms as well as the honeydew to take back to the hive. However, if there is any difference in taste when this happens, it’s extremely subtle.
The honeydew itself is produced by insects that feed on tree sap, such as aphids. These mortal enemies of gardeners across the country get their nutrients from the sap of various plants and trees—once they’re done feeding, honeydew is one of their waste products. The aphids leave this sweet sticky liquid on leaves, branches and on the ground under the trees, and the bees collect it in the same way they would nectar, transporting it back to the hive.
Earthy, nutty character
“What characterises chestnut honey most for me is a lack of sweetness. There is not that intense saccharinity that you get with other honeys—even some other forest ones—and this allows the other flavours to come through,” Harry reveals. “It has an earthy, nutty character with a real taste of the woodland. There is also a subtle but distinguished bitter note, which is one of the things that makes chestnut honey so distinctive. Also, because it is a forest honey (or honeydew honey, as they are also sometimes called), it has a thick consistency and rich, dark colour.”
This honey makes a great accompaniment for a wide variety of foods and drinks. One unusual way Harry suggests using it is in coffee. “It’s not a combination you would normally think of, but with this honey it really works,” he insists. “It goes well with cheeses, too. Make sure you try it with a blue—the hint of astringency n the chestnut honey really complements the piquancy of the cheese.”
According to Harry, people often have an interesting reaction when they first try it. “People associate honey with sweetness, so when it’s not what they are expecting it can put some people off.” However, once customers get past that initial hurdle, it often quickly becomes one of their favourites. “Chestnut honey has a really faithful following. We have customers who come on a regular basis to buy several jars and tell us the wide variety of uses they put it to. Sometimes it is the only honey they use.”