Clover Honey From the High Plains

By Ari Weinzweig
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Photo by Or Hiltch/FlickrCC


Like it or not, we all have our prejudices. It's sort of inevitable, I think. I can't figure out how anyone could grow up without any, though maybe somewhere out there... Anyways, the challenge, to my sense of things, isn't to not have biases, but really just to acknowledge what they are and get them out in the "open" in our minds. Once we've accepted them then we can work actively and constructively to overcome them and keep them from getting in the way of the way we interact with the world. That's true of most everything, and, for me at least, it's totally true with honey too.

Having spent so many years now writing, talking, and teaching about great varietal honeys, I've really come to pooh pooh (sorry--couldn't resist) clover honey. While the vast majority of the clover honey out there is perfectly fine to eat, and certainly sweet, it generally lacks most or all of the complexity and depth that I've come to love about great honeys. I'll own my bias: When I hear "clover" what comes to my mind is basically akin to the "American singles" of the honey world.

You can do anything you want with a honey like this. For me, a spoonful or two on its own make a really great dessert.

At least that's how I thought about it up until about a month ago. The great thing of all biases is that, even when partially rooted in some isolated element of reality, they're almost always proven wrong later by what turn out to be pretty excellent examples of the bias' inexactitude and inaccuracy. So that's a long preface to a couple paragraphs about this really amazing honey from out West: High Plains clover honey

It comes to us through Amina and Yishai Harris, who've been running their little honey company, known as Moonshine Trading , out in California since 1979. We've been buying great varietal honeys from them for as long as I can remember, at least 20 years now, probably a bit longer. While Amina and Yishai have both worked extensively with bees and hives directly, mostly what they do as Moonshine is to seek out other great beekeepers, taste the various honeys that are out there, and then figure out how to get them from the apiary to folks like us in Ann Arbor.

Between their experience and their location they're pretty ideally suited to that work. "Because we're located so close to Sacramento--pretty much right smack dab in the middle of California--over the years we have developed a far-reaching network of beekeepers who either are based in California or who travel through here to move their bees into the almonds in the spring and then on to the citrus groves that begin near Fresno and head on south to San Diego," Amina said.

More specifically the clover comes from the high (over 5,000 feet) up plains out west in Wyoming and South Dakota. "It's from a beekeeper we've been working with for almost 30 years," Amina added. "He travels from the far eastern edge of Montana to California and on to Hawaii! With bee boxes piled on the back of his truck, bees are moved from sweet clover in the summer, winter in California, move into the citrus in the Spring and then into the fields of Star Thistle that grow rampant all over Northern California.

"When he needs a break, he flies out to the Big Island and works his colonies there producing Lehua and Christmas Berry Honey. He knows when honey is good, and he knew that last year was a stupendous year for Sweet Clover. So we bought all we could. After all, it's my very favorite all-time honey."

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I've not yet seen it in person (though I'm ready to go), but Amina says it's from "huge stands of tall branching sweet clover that grow in abundance in the area. In fields and along stream beds, these yellow and white blossoms decorate the ends of three foot tall leafy stems!" This a serious "man's clover" (that's a joke--figured since I was addressing biases...) No wimpy little weeds out West.

Anyways, as brawny as the clover is, the honey that comes from the nectar that the bees gather is exceptionally delicate. It's very light in color and texture--clear and free flowing and exceptionally interesting to eat. It was chosen as the BEST Clover Honey available in the United States, by Food & Wine in August 2008. As you already know, Amina's pretty high on it. "Simply put," she said, "there is no other clover honey like this one. It can't even be compared to the honey produced by the familiar clover growing along most roadsides."

I won't yet say it's my favorite but I will say it's pretty great, and it completely blew my bias out the water. I'll never carry on negatively about clover honey again. Like most things in life, there are clearly some not very flavorful clover honeys and also a few--like this--really amazing ones. This stuff, to state the now obvious, is pretty special. It's a clear honey, and it'll pour from the jar with ease.

The flavor is light... summery, slightly butterscotch-y. Very definitely cinnamon-y in a very nice and very noticeable way. If it was a wine, not a honey, I'd tell you it was "honeyed" which is making me think it's almost like a light Sauterne or a Trockenbeerenauslese if you're into dessert wines. The finish is light but long, and... the flavor makes me take a mental step of appreciation back every time I re-taste it.

You can do anything you want with a honey like this. Personally, I've really just been mostly eating it as is, straight out of the jar. For me, a spoonful or two on its own make a really great dessert. The flavor lingers, and because it's so delicate I think it's ideally suited to the newly-arrived warm weather.

It's not at all heavy and won't weigh you down like some of the darker, denser honeys. Erica, merchandising manager at the Deli for many years, says, "It's really good on top of a fresh City Goat [cheese] on a green salad." And, bearing out my earlier point about biases, she added. "For a clover honey, it's pretty impressive. It's something people are used to being sort of blandish and middle of the road. This is way better."

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This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2009/07/clover-honey-from-the-high-plains/21842/