Sunday, November 11, 2012

Miel - Honey. France's Many Wonderful Honeys.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman
Updated July 2019
Honey on sale in a market, France.

French chefs choose honey with particular qualities as well as the taste. The kinds of honey used in French recipes must have a controllable amount of sweetness. Certain kinds of honey turn into simple sugars when heat is applied. These kinds of honey may only be used when cold or their unique tastes will be lost; they may be used with frozen desserts or added just before serving,

Bees - The next generation.
In this picture, the queen bee (the longer bee in the lower part of the frame) is laying eggs that the worker bees will feed. In 21 day a new worker bee will appear.
Honey was the world’s first sweetener. From the days of French Haute Cuisine until today's modern French cuisine honey has kept its rightful place. French cookbooks offer more recipes that contain honey than any other cuisine. French recipes with honey run into their thousands.

Honey is produced in nearly every part of France; however, I am not writing a book on French honey. I include in this post only the kinds of kinds of honey that will often be on menus by name.
The kinds of honey that may be on your menu:  
Miel d'Acacia- Honey from French acacia trees.

Acacia blossom honey is a honey with a mild, but pervasive flavor that will not change during the cooking process.  Acacia honey is important for chefs, as it does not break into simple sugars at the heat required for baking.
Crème Brûlée au Miel d’Acacia– A Crème Brûlée flavored with acacia honey.
Le Pigeonneau Rôti au Miel d'Acacia – A young pigeon, a squab, roasted with acacia honey.
Salade au Chèvre Chaud au Miel d'Acacia et Pignons de Pin – A salad with warmed goat’s cheese served with acacia honey and pine nuts.
Fleurs d'Acacia are the acacia blossoms themselves, not the honey is used in some recipes. The blossoms are very popular in tisanes, herbal teas. I have included acacia blossoms because they are as unique in the French kitchen as is the honey made with their pollen.
Beignets de Fleurs d'Acacia  - A dessert made of acacia blossoms mixed with milk, flour, and eggs, flavored with vanilla, and then deep-fried; the blossoms will be served with powdered sugar. The scent of the acacia flower remains, and that makes this traditional dish special.
Fleurs d'Acacia  - Acacia blossom.
Photograph courtesy of
Miels d'Alsace and the Miel d'Alsace IGP
The honey from the Alsace and the Alsatian IGP honey.
The honey from the flowers, trees, and herbs from the Alsace, in the new super region of the Grand Est in Northern France. This includes the Alsace’s Miel de Sapin IGP honey.  Miel de Sapin is a honeydew honey, a very different honey.  Here the bees manage flocks of aphids that eat the sap of fir trees and produce honeydew. The bees collect the honeydew instead of pollen and make honey from the honeydew. A different tasting honey,
 I enjoyed a unique dessert in the Alsace made with honeydew honey. That dessert was a puff-pastry casing enclosing a small Munster cheese.  The pastry was served hot with the with the Miel de Sapin d'Alsace IGP drizzled all over the pastry. It was absolutely magnificent.
Other kinds of honey from the Alsace
The Alsace has so many different types of honey and so much interest in them that a book has been written about Alsatian honey by Gilbert Vignolle. His book is called the Route des Miels d'Alsace, the honey road of the Alsace.  Vignolle has also written a book on the honey's of Bretagne, Brittany: the Route des Miels de Bretagne. Unfortunately, I have not yet seen an English version of either book yet, but that may change.
The Miels d'Alsace come from many different flowers, and they include rare kinds of honey like their uniquely tasting, and very special, horseradish flower honey!   There are areas in the Alsace famous for their honey such as La Haute Vallée de la Bruche, the Upper Bruche Valley. The valley is 50 km (31 miles) to the Southeast of the region's capital city of Strasbourg.  Strasbourg is also the home of the European Parliament, and those parliamentarians certainly need honey!
Jarret de Porc Grillé au Miel et Moutarde d'Alsace   -  The Jarret is a  meaty cut across the shin. Here, this cut with a marrow bone in the center is grilled and flavored with honey and mustard from the Alsace.  A similar cut across the shin in veal and lamb is used for the famous Italian dish called osso buco.
Nougat Glacé au Miel de la Vallée de la Haute Bruche  – Nougat glazed with honey from the Upper Bruche Valley. 
Bee gathering honeydew from an aphid.
Miel de Châtaignier - Chestnut Honey,
France has hundreds of chestnut forests and so chestnut honey is popular and produced all over France. Chestnut honey will be on many menus.
Gambas au Miel de Châtaignier et Baies Rosés Large shrimps prepared with chestnut honey and red berries.
Magret de Canard au Miel de Châtaignier – Duck breast prepared with chestnut honey.
Miel de Corse and Miel de Course AOP – Honey from Corsica
 Corsican honey needs a book of its own, as the honeybees of Corsica have been identified as a  unique species. There are six famous AOP honeys from Corsica and many others which are excellent.  The family members of today’s Corsican honeybees were providing Rome with honey 2,000 years ago. Corsican honey comes from chestnuts, clementine flowers, wildflowers, heather, lavender, herbs, the strawberry tree, pine trees, fir trees, and oak trees.
The famous Corsican AOP  honey:
Miel de Maquis de Printemps  AOP - Spring time honey from the Corsican Maquis with early flowering citrus flowers, lavender, clover, heather, brambles and herbs including thyme.  The earliest flowering plants are wild white heather with some additions of rosemary and Corsican lavender.
The Corsican Maquis is natural, wild scrublands. The Maquis is densely foliated and includes hundreds of flowers, trees, and herbs. This scrubland covers nearly half the island. In Corsica's bad old days, the Maquis were hideouts for Corsican bandits. This AOP honey is the earliest honey to be collected in the honeybee’s harvesting season.          

 Miel du Sapin de Maquis, Miellat du Maquis  AOP  -  Honeydew honey from the Maquis. The bees collect the honeydew from the aphids on pine and oak trees in the Maquis. This is a different tasting and differently textured honey to that made from pollen. 
 Miel de Châtaigneraie  AOP - Chestnut honey from the Corsican chestnut forests. Chestnuts are much used in Corsican cuisine with chestnut flour being used on its own or mixed with other flours. Corsican chestnuts also produce a unique chestnut flour which has its won AOP.
Bee gathering pollen.
Maquis d’Automne  AOP  - The Autumn scrubland honey; this honey is collected by the bees from September until December. Much of this honey comes from the pollen in the flowers of the  Arbouse tree, the strawberry tree. Despite being called the strawberry tree, the tree has no connection to strawberries of any kind. However, the Arbouse tree grows well in Corsica and the bees make a uniquely tasting honey from the pollen collected from this tree’s blossom.  The strawberry tree fruits themselves are not very popular on their own, they are quite bland.  However, the fruits are used to make a much-enjoyed Eau-de-vie and in French-Chinese and French-Vietnamese restaurants, they serve the fruit like lychees in a sweet syrup. The popularity of the fruit in French-Asian restaurants has given the strawberry tree its other French name, the Fraise Chinoise, the Chinese strawberry.      
Bee gathering pollen.

Maquis d'Été – The summer honey of the Maquis.

Miel de Printemps -  Corsican honey from Spring flowers.
On your menu in there may be:
 Magret Rôti au Miel de Corse AOP et Balsamique Breast of duck roasted with a sauce made from Corsican AOP honey and Balsamic vinegar
 Médaillon de Veau au Miel de Course AOP et aux Agrumes  -A medallion, a round cut or slice of veal flavored with Corsican AOC honey and citrus fruits.
Honey Seller
Risotto au Safran et Miel de Corse AOP – Risotto flavored with saffron and AOP Corsican honey.
Travers de Porc Caramélisés au Miel de Corse AOP – Pork spareribs caramelized with Corsican AOP honey.
Miel de Provence.
 Honey from Provence.
Provence is blessed with many types of honey. Quite a number carry a Label Rouge, the red label, and PGI, the Protected Geographical Origin label.  Their Label rouge IGP honey includes Miel d'Acacia – Acacia tree honey; Miel de Bruyèr Rose d'Automne – Autumn pink heather honey;  Miel de Framboisier – Raspberry honey; Miels de Lavandin – French lavender honey; Miel de Thym Serpolet – Wild thyme honey; and Miel de Rhododendron – Rhododendron honey.
Provence is famous for its lavender. Occasionally lavender is included in Provençal dishes thought that will be more for the aroma than the taste. Lavender honey, however, is a different matter and its taste and aroma are unique.
Magret de Canard aux Pêches Blanches du Roussillon et Miel de LavandeDuck breast prepared with white peaches from the Roussillon, part of  Languedoc-Roussillon, with lavender honey.  (Since 1-1-2016 the regions of Languedoc-Roussillon and the Midi-Pyrénée are joined in the new super region of Occitanie).

Overlooking Clermont-Ferrand,the capital of the Auvergne.
Photograph courtesy of the  Ville de Clermont-Ferrand
Noisettes d'Agneau Fermier du Quercy aux Fleurs et Miel de Lavande – Small cuts of meat taken from the inside of lamb chops from Quercy farm raised lamb. They are flavored with the flowers and honey from lavender.  Quercy is an old French province, part of the region of the  Midi-Pyrenees in the new super region of Occitanie.  Quercy has brought to Occitanie its own significant culinary history.
Pêche Rôtie au Miel de Lavande - A peach roasted in lavender honey. 
Abricot Rôti au Miel de Provence, Crème Glacée au Citron Vert Confit et Verveine.  Apricots roasted in Provencal honey and served with an ice cream and lime conserve flavored with lemon verbena.
Filet de Loup Poêlé aux Épices et Amandes Grillées au Miel de Provence  -  A filet of European sea bass lightly fried with spices and served with grilled almonds and Provencal honey.
Filet Mignon de Porc au Miel de Provence et aux Fruits Sec – A center cut from a pork fillet prepared with Provencal honey and served with dried fruits.
Miel de Garrigues- Honey from the Garrigues.
The garrigues are the limestone scrubland in Languedoc-Roussillon in the region of Occitanie and parts of Provence. Similar scrubland in Provence is called the Maquis. Farmers are returning to these almost deserted lands whose trees and the cover was destroyed by man over thousands of years. Today there are farm animals, especially sheep and goats for cheese as well wild herbs, trees and flowers. The honey from the garrigues will be on many menus.
Crêpes au Miel de GarriguesCrepes flavored with honey from the Garrigues.
Magret de Canard entier Rôti accompagné d'un Écrasé de Pommes de Terre et Jus Caramélisé au Miel de Garrigue.  – A whole duck breast accompanied by hand-mashed potatoes and the duck’s cooking juices caramelized with honey from the Garrigues.
Wild flowers in the Garrigues
Pigeonneau D'Anjou Laqué au Miel de Garrigues -  A young pigeon, a squab, from Anjou glazed in honey from the Garrigues.   The old province of Anjou is today mostly included in the department of Maine et Loire in the region of the Pays de la Loire; it is famous for its many pigeon farmers.  (Anjou was  the historical home of the Plantagenet Kings of England).
Miel de Mille Fleurs – Honey from a thousand flowers.

Miel de millefleurs literally translates as honey from a thousand flowers. It is a beautiful name though the honey may come from just twenty or thirty flowers. Different types of honey with this name may sometimes note the area where the honey comes from.
 Chèvre Chaud au Mille-fleurs Charentais – Warm goat’s cheese with the honey from flowers in the région of Poitou-Charentes. (Poitou-Charentes since 1-1-2016 is part of the super region of Nouvelle Aquitaine).

Coulis de Fruits Rouges ou Miel Mille Fleur – A puree of red fruits, prepared with thousand flower honey. (Red fruits, depending on the season, may include strawberries, and berries such as billberries, juniper berries, black currants, raspberries and black currants).

Honey and jam on Belgian waffle.
Mignon de Porc au Pamplemousse et Miel de Mille Fleurs –  Filet of pork grilled, or possibly fried, with grapefruit and thousand flower honey.
Miel de Montagne – Honey from the mountains.
Mountain honey may seem similar to the honey from a thousand flowers, but it is not.  The flowers, herbs, and grasses that supply the pollen used for this honey may be very different. The hives are set in the foothills of the mountains and the taste of the honey from these flowers and herbs are unique. Mountain honey may come with many different tastes.
Croustillant de Chèvre d'Ariège au Miel de Montagne,  – A crisply baked goat ‘s cheese served with honey from the mountains if the département of in Ariège. Ariège is part of the Midi-Pyrénées in the super region of Occitanie.  
Magret de Canard au Miel de MontagneBreast of duck, usually fried, prepared with honey from the mountain flowers.
Miel de Romarin  -  Rosemary honey.
A great deal of rosemary honey comes from the beehives of farmers who have been paid to place their hives close to the fields where the rosemary is grown.  Placing hives close to the fields is an important part of a bee keeper’s income.
Rosemary flowers
Rosemary honey became famous when the Romans founded the port city of Narbonne on the Mediterranean in 118 BCE.  Narbonne is part of the region now called Occitanie and today 15 km (9 miles) inland. However, two-thousand years ago Narbonne was a port competing with Marseilles. This Roman port was called Colonia Narbo Martius. It was central to Rome’s control of a road they had built from Italy through France to Spain. The Romans called this rosemary honey, Narbonne honey and Narbonne honey was then the most expensive honey in the world
Souris d'Agneau au Miel de Romarin – A knuckle of lamb prepared with rosemary honey.
Miel de Sapin des Vosges AOP
Honeydew honey from the Vosges AOP
This honeydew honey comes from the honeydew from the aphids on the fir trees in the Vosges.  The Vosges is a département in the part of France called the Lorraine, now in the region of the Grand Est.  This is a special honey with a light malty tang and it carries a valuable AOP label for its unique quality.

This is the honey of choice for sauces where a very sweet honey flavor is not wanted.  The Lorraine is, of course, also home to the original  Quiche Lorraine,  eau-de-vies, fruit brandies, and much of France's beer.
 Cuisse de Canard Rôtie au Miel de Sapin des Vosges – A roast wing of duck prepared with the honeydew honey of the Vosges.
 Mousse de Sabayon au Cointreau Glace au Miel de Sapin des Vosges - A French take on the Italian dessert Zabaglione. Here it is prepared with Cointreau, and glazed with the honeydew honey from the Vosges.
 Nougat Glacé au Miel de Sapin des Vosges – Nougat glazed with the honeydew honey from the Vosges. Nougat is already very sweet and already contains honey, so the chef has chosen a honey with a taste that will contrast.

Miel de Sologne Honey from the Sologne in the Val de Loire
Sologne honey comes from heather and other forest flowers in the Sologne in the Val de Loire. The Sologne forests are composed mainly of chestnut, fir, and lime and the plants include blackberries, heather, clover, and herbs.
Ris de Veau Grillé sur un Lit d'Artichaut, Jus Corsé au Miel de Sologne.  Veal sweetbreads, grilled and served on a bed of artichoke hearts, and served with the natural gravy from the sweetbreads prepared with honey from the Sologne.
Heather and a bee
Terrine de Sanglier, Confiture d'Oignon Rouge au Miel de Sologne  - A wild boar pate served with jam made of red onions slowly cooked with the honey from the Sologne.

As a child, I grew up in the North of England close to hills covered with heather,  wildflowers, brambles and small fast running streams.  With those possibilities, our father kept ten or more, very large, beehives.  The honey those bees produced was best when eaten directly from the crunchy and dripping honeycombs.  Despite my preferences, most of the honey was separated from the combs, sealed in jars and distributed to family members. From childhood until now I have always looked for different honeys that come with that crunchy honeycomb. I have found quite a few but none are the same as the honey of my childhood!

Five hundred years ago, honey was the most important sweetener. Then cane sugar came to the west.  Beet sugar only reached the average person some two-hundred years ago. 
 Long before the Romans and Greeks, over 4,000 years ago the Indian and the Chinese were using honey in their cooking and as medicine. Later the ancient Egyptians would also use honey in cooking, in making alcoholic beverages and in homeopathic medicine.  The Egyptians also used honey in their preservation of mummies as honey does not decay or corrupt. While I would not volunteer to try any of the ancient honey that have been found in the pyramids, others have. I have read that those ancient Egyptian honeys may be heated and then eaten today.
Honeybees may be the most important creatures on earth, after man.  In addition to their all-important job of pollinating the next generation of grasses, herbs, fruits, and grains the honey bees produce fabulous honey. Winnie the Pooh will always be happy!

Bryan G. Newman
Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010,2012,2015, 2019.
For more information on the unpublished book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman


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