Apiary Review: Abeille Soleil - Manosque in the Alpes de Haute Provence - France
This post is being written during the depths of the 2020 Covid-19 crisis. All air and international travel has been greatly restricted or suspended. But that isn't going to stop Yours Truly from taking you on a journey around the world to experience the most breathtaking landscapes and the special apiaries (honey farms) they house. Now full disclosure, I haven't had the privilege to visit every site I write about but I do A LOT of research and I can tell you what is worth checking out, exploring, and what local fare can (and should) be combined with the magic that is produced at these little companies.
Abeille Soleil (translated 'Bee Sun')
Abeille Soleil is a small family run honey producer. At it's inception (1989), it was helmed by Daniel - the grandfather. After a few years had rolled by, Daniel's son-in-law Fred and Daniel's daughter Sandrine assumed control and a more active role. Ludivine and Aurélien are Daniel's grandchildren and the defacto inheritors the apiary.
Before long Daniel took on the moniker of "shepherd of bees".
Their shop is a cornucopia of honey and honey based products:
They round it out with a gift section with non-everyday unique fixtures like honey vinegar, an array of soaps with southern French scents.
Of course I'll tell you about the honey - just bare in mind, they have quite an assortment:
Basses Alpes Flower
How's that for a list!? Have I painted a picture of stunning variety? If so, and you have a few Euros burning a hole in your pocket, head over to their web store and try a few. Guess what?!?! - Shipping to the USA is an option in their shopping cart. Shipping is going to make an impact but a number of these floral types are difficult to come by stateside. A little added info I picked up from another blog - Fred offers an 11% discount (excluding shipping costs) on all of your order with the code COCO and there USED TO BE free shipping from € 60 + of purchases (mainland France, Corsica and Monaco) . As of this writing, I am not certain if that offer is still on the table but it does not hurt to ask at time of order.
Now, as far as food pairings go - I am going to talk just a bit about Lavender Honey, simply because France is the heart of premier Lavender flower (and Lavender honey) production - the world over. This image alone should make you begin your French countryside vacation planning and push you to get on the United website and book your ticket. (photo credit WallpaperBoat.com)
Lavender honey can come from the 39 species of Lavender. Of all the types that are grown throughout France, the two most dominant crops are True Lavender and Spike Lavender. Lavandin, is a third and a variant/hybrid of these two. These flowers provide the bulk floral source for most Lavender honey. The dynamic components of the honey will vary. This is a function of the changing concentrations of each of the species - within each new batch of honey. This is best detected by aroma. Camphor notes also play a part.
To describe it- flowery, pleasant, (though both descriptors are a bit overused) well balanced and rounded with a soft, not overbearing floral component. More often than not, the taste is best described as 'right in the middle'. On more than one occasion, I have experienced the taste 'amplify' it's sweetness the longer it sits on the tongue and approaches the finish. There are occasions that you will experience somewhat sour notes. The color will oscillate between light white to very delicate amber. Lavender honey may have some salty tones, especially in the event the lavender grows adjacent to honeydew. Very low acidity with negligible bitterness and a fine texture (normal degree of crystallization).
How would I use it?
Cheese - cheese - cheese!!!! I am going to suggest you set off on a good old fashioned picnic. After making your selection from Abeille Soleil, grab a cab and head into the heart of Manosque and seek out a cheese shop named 'Aux plaisirs des mets par loufromagiou'. Have a quick look here and you will know it on site:
The proprietor is a fellow named Denis, nicknamed "lou fromagiou". Have him point you in the way of the perfect cheese pairing. My suggestion is to point you in the direction of a soft brie - but Denis is the expert, so make sure you get him to weigh in. You can also pick up a selection of cold meats. And yes, he has wine also.
(photos courtesy of Aux plaisirs des mets par loufromagiou)
Now get yourself to Europe (and don't be bashful about bringing me presents from the Abeille Soleil apiary).