The crowd of 200 plus hungry guests quieted down for a beat and then, once the sign was given, began making a soft, communal “Buzzzzzing” sound that quickly turned into a loud, nearly deafening crescendo for over a dozen seconds. Was this a world record for the largest human group making bee-like sounds? Perhaps – but it was actually an exercise in community whimsy that has become just another fun, albeit inexplicable component of the monthly Wednesday Over Water event meant to give an important, informal twist to the intersection of food and art.
The museum welcomed famed “Honey Sommelier” Marina Marchese for two days of insight and sensory experience situated around the artisanship of beekeeping and evaluating honey. Of course for WOW, the culinary team devised a beautiful, sublime menu featuring creamy chevre, traditional baklava, and roasted duck (see recipe below), all sharing the diverse virtues and flavor profiles of locally harvested nectar. Ms. Marchese mesmerized the audience with her life story, which includes two books written on the subject; The Honey Connoisseur Selecting, Tasting, and Pairing Honey, co-authored with Kim Flottum (editor of Bee Culture Magazine), and Honeybee Lessons from an Accidental Beekeeper that was published in 2009.
I was mesmerized by Marina just in the correspondences we shared prior to her arrival; particularly when she asked if I could procure a special ultra-rare variety of KUDZU honey that was specific to the southern parts of the United States. “It has a gorgeous, light blue tint in its color,” she described, “and the flavor profile is analogous to a Jolly Rancher candy.” I immediately went on a search for the elusive prize, blanketing all the local farmers’ markets, independent grocers, and even road side stands, but alas, to no avail.
Still, Marina was gracious in her storytelling, fondly recounting her love affair with honey bees, the specialized training she received in Italy, and her establishment of the American Honey Tasting Society, the leading resource for honey sensory education in the United States, an entirely new concept for developing a standard method for tasting and evaluating honey.
The nuances of honey are as complex as any other organic foodstuff, offering different experiences in color, smell, mouthfeel, and taste based on a nearly infinite number of variables that include terroir, climate, and the flowers themselves; for instance, honey derived from peach and plum orchards are likely to taste of stone fruit, while bees that gather nectar from the Ozark Mountains might yield something that echoes field clover and even blackberries. Most WOW attendees are informal wine enthusiasts, so the uncanny similarities between the two had everyone BEE-witched, to say the least.
It’s been said that if the honey bee population was to succumb entirely to whatever it is that is forcing its population to decrease, then within a few years later, humans would most certainly follow. Marina doesn’t necessary adhere to that belief, proclaiming that “…just as with everything else, we would adapt and thrive..” Regardless of where you land on the debate, one thing is certain: the world as we know it wouldn’t be remotely as beautiful, fun, or sweet without them.