Imagine having your own beehives surrounded by wild Manuka and Kanuka trees bordering the sea. Imagine having a guy managing these hives for you, someone who’s worked with bees for years and who knows how to keep your hives as single origin or a mix of wildflowers, as you like. Imagine the unusual flavours you’d get from your special part of the world, where Manuka flowers are transformed into an unblended natural honey which pops with notes of lemon, passionfruit and maple syrup. And best of all, imagine that this comes delivered to you in a glass jar, ready to amaze your tastebuds and heal your soul any time of the day.
I’ve wanted to keep bees for years. Every time I get close to the idea, I think of the hard work of establishing and keeping bees, of managing their environment and of the processing to keep the honey and hive in tact… and so I put it off. Bummer, because I don’t much like most of the honey I get in plastic containers or the way they all start to taste the same. I do however like the variety of good honey made available at the local stands you come across on road trips, special for the moment but not something I have access to all the time. And then I come across Manuka Honey from Blueskin Bay just north of Dunedin. I can tell immediately that this honey is special, that it’s been curated to maintain a single origin species flavour and that it’s been extremely well delivered (unheated, hasn’t been blended, not creamed, glass jar). So I call David Milne to ask how he did it.
David grew up around Dunedin appreciating local flavours fused with the mediterranean style cooking of his grandmother who was born in Lebanon. At Otago University, David studied a wide range of subjects from art to law but his food learning took place in Madison, Wisconsin where a girl he’d met from that American midwest town introduced him to the culinary culture of the region. Out in the huge fields around the town David learned to raise bees making pasture honey, hawthorn and willow honey, clover, borage, buckwheat honey to name a few. The potlucks, food co-ops and quality produce of the region was an inspiration to David who wanted to blend his growing interest in food and previous education together to make a brand back in NZ that would reflect these values and ideas.
In particular, David wanted to develop a product that would reflect a way of living a life of pleasure but with balance. Back home in Dunedin, being surrounded by an environment rich with natural resources, David decided to create honey starting with local queen bees that he could build hives focusing on three main sources, Manuka, Kanuka and wild flowers. The core concept being to create an amazing food experience that would be organically created, extremely local, largely untouched in terms of processing and memorable flavours, and to achieve all of this in balance with nature and his community. Having tasted this stuff and spoken to the man, I’d say he’s nailed it. One taste of the manuka in particular made me think I’d never tasted manuka honey before. In comparison to the average manuka or closely related blends, Blueskin Bay’s manuka had a fruity floral clarity, a natural grain mouth feel and a delightful finish all by itself. Imagine then, adding this to say a meat marinade, a dressing with a bit of vinegar or a glaze over muffins. Beautiful.
There’s heaps to be said about the health aspects too and I found David particularly frank and helpful in this aspect. As an apiculture assessor at Lincoln University, he’s not one to hype Manuka factors and stuff like that. Instead, he focuses on the fact that if you eat locally produced honey, made by healthy bees flying around your own region taking in the flora of the region and creating a food from it, then you will be adding a nutritionally fitting element to your diet that your DNA is accustomed to, which for many people will also keep allergies down. There are other anti bacterial benefits to Manuka honey, but these are largely external applications and rarely seen as internal (ingested) benefits. What Blueskin does best, I think, is to manage the hives of my dreams with skill, local knowledge and an organic process which creates a truly outstanding honey which I can enjoy without all that work. But just in case I ever do want to have my own hive, David will rent me one
and help me manage it. How cool is that!