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West Virginia beekeeping collective wins Garden & Gun prize for best food

West Virginia beekeeping collective wins Garden & Gun prize for best food

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Appalachian Beekeeping Collective Honey

This year’s winner in Garden & Gun Magazine’s “Made in the South” Food Category is Appalachian Beekeeping Collective, in Lewisburg, West Virginia.

The collective was born from the reforestation program of Appalachian Headwaters, a non-profit founded in 2016, and dedicated to renovating land damaged by mountaintop removal mines. Advised that they would need pollinators, the organization began training people as beekeepers, providing hives, bees and mentorship free of charge.

More than 100 beekeepers in southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia sell honey to the non-profit nowadays, and the collective sells the honey to the public.

Honey is honey, you say? Not so fast.

Bees make honey from pollen within an average one- to two-mile radius of their hives, so the honey’s character drips from what grows nearby. Think of the ‘terroir’ of wines, coffees and chocolates — distinctive environmental quirks of soil and weather that give a product its flavor.

This honey is made from trees.

“It’s very much a forest-based honey,” Kate Asquith, executive director of Appalachian Headwaters, said. Black Locust, a tree with a storied history in the southern mountains, was the judge’s favorite, with its hints of vanilla and mint. Varietals include classic Appalachian trees such as tulip poplar, basswood and sourwood. Each type of tree blooms on a different schedule, giving the final product a more distinct and robust flavor than the wildflower honeys you’re used to.

Andrew Zimmern, who has both Emmy and James Beard awards for his work as a chef and a TV show host, was this year’s judge. Zimmern, quoted in Garden & Gun, said: “It’s not so much a honey for tea as it is the extra-special kind you’d happily slather on a biscuit.”

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