Locavore Bees, Local Honey
Saturday, August 19 is National Honey Bee Day and Dante is celebrating all week long with a special cocktail, The Honey Cove, and headlining menu items featuring delicious local honey.
Chef Nick Strawhecker is well-known for being a champion of local growers and producers. But honey is a somewhat natural, free-range product anyway. Does it really matter if it’s local?
If you’ve tried Dante’s honey, you’ve noticed that it certainly does matter as far as taste is concerned. It’s silkier than commercial brands, with a pure, uncloying sweetness and pleasant elasticity instead of gooey thick stickiness.
And, true to Dante’s seasonal menu philosophy, local honey evolves throughout the year. “Early and later in the season, the color is darker and more full-bodied, but right now, when everything is in full bloom, the honey is light in both flavor and color,” local beekeeper Mike Levine notes. “It’s the same bees, just different flowers.”
Mike and his wife Jodi are the owners of Fruit of Levine, the farm in Omaha where Dante sources this liquid gold. Recently, they invited me out to the farm to see where the apiary alchemy happens.
The first thing to know about Fruit of Levine honey (besides the fact that it makes an irresistible Beatrice to Dante’s house ricotta) is that it’s produced sustainably with minimal impact to the environment. The Levines have a 15-acre farm full of wildflowers and clover on which their bees dine, and they only use materials that are approved by the Organic Materials Review Institute. This method of production, of course, reduces some of the environmental factors that have contributed to the wipe-out of the world’s honey bee population. “If people’s yards were filled with clover and dandelions, the bees would be much healthier,” Mike says.
“Fruit of Levine raises their bees and produces their honey in a way similar to Italian apiaries where the bees often have fields and meadows of wildflowers to pollinate,” says Chef Strawhecker. “Italians take their honey as seriously as they take their wine, their olive oil and their cheese, which is why we care so much where the honey we serve at Dante comes from.”
As in Italy, Fruit of Levine's honey is minimally processed — only heated at a low temperature enough to separate the wax (which Jodi uses to make lip balms). “Some large companies superstrain their honey, which erases the footprint of where the honey comes from,” Jodi says. "If you know the beekeeper and how they process their honey, you know that's not happening."
Adds Chef Strawhecker, “This is Nebraska honey, and you can taste the terroir."