This month, the 44th annual Gravenstein Apple Fair, which bills itself as “the sweetest little fair in Sonoma County,” is going to get a lot sweeter, thanks to the sweetest little elixir in the world.
This year’s theme, “In Praise of Pollinators,” will celebrate the busy honey bees of the world while providing fair-goers with a chance to savor a tasty array of honey-infused products, from ciders and cocktails to salads and desserts.
And, if you’ve never tasted a wine made from honey before, don’t miss the tasting booth of Heidrun Meadery of Point Reyes Station, who will provide sips of their unusual, sparkling meads. For true mead heads, there’s even a make-your-own mead workshop in the DIY tent.
Honey, like wine and olive oil, is an ancient food that was prized by the Egyptians for its healthy properties, both inside and outside the body. As a culinary obsession, it has stood the test of time. From adding it to a cheese plate to stirring it into your tea, honey has proven itself versatile and healing ingredient.
In Sonoma County, many farmers market and small farmstands in Sonoma County offer local honeys that provide an array of different flavors, depending on when and how it was harvested and the trifecta of soil, water and climate terroir.
Bill MacElroy of Monte-Bellaria di California in west Sebastopol cares for six colonies of bees that he keeps right in the middle of his oldest lavender field. He makes lavender honey packaged it in 4-ounce jars and sometimes sells his lavender honey to mead and cider makers.
“The honey we produce is almost monofloral, almost all lavender, and it has a very distinct taste to it,” MacElroy said. “It has almost a savory characteristic to it ... it tastes sweet, but it has an aftertone of herb.” At the apple fair, the Monte-Bellaria di California honey will be featured in a limited edition cider from Tilted Shed Ciderworks called the Gravenstein Honey Cider. The small-batch cider was made specifically for the apple fair as it combines both the heirloom apples and a local honey.
“We made 15 cases, and it’ll be released at the Gravenstein Apple Fair at the Cider Tent and the Artisan Tasting Lounge,” said Ellen Cavalli, co-owner of Tilted Shed. “It’s a naturally sparkling, dry cider made from 100 percent organic Gravensteins from Sebastopol ... bottle conditioned with Monte-Bellaria’s lavender honey.”
At Monte-Bellaria, MacElroy said he enjoys growing healthy, local products like honey, which has such a low water content that it almost never goes bad. According to “The Honey Connoisseur” by C. Marina Marchese and Kim Flottum, a clay vessel with honey was excated in 1922 from the tomb of Egyptian pharoah Tutankhamen, and it was still completely preserved, still amost liquid and with its original sweet, aroma.
“This is one of the reasons why honey is very good for you,” MacElroy said. “It has all these wonderful antioxidants and antibiotics, and it’s a part of healthy living.”
While honey has been used to treat wounds and sore throats for thousands of years, modern honey bees have been struggling to survive amid the encroachments of human civilization.
Some local beekeepers believe it may be starvation that is causing the colony collapse disorder among bees. These days, there is less natural clover and thistle to sustain the bees as a food source.