I just got back from the mountains of North Carolina where at every Shoppe (with two p’s and an e) they were selling Sourwood Honey. Since I was unfamiliar with the variety I did a little investigating.
Honey connoisseurs everywhere seek out Sourwood’s deep spicy flavor. Its texture is defined by a smooth, caramel buttery quality with color ranging from pure white to light amber with a grayish tint. Sourwood honey’s flavor is flowery with hints of baking spices and anise. Some people say it recalls the flavorings of gingerbread with a “twang” in the aftertaste.
The Sourwood’s scarcity can be attributed to the very small amount of trees currently growing. Indigenous to the United States, the Sourwood tree (also called the Lily of the Valley tree or the Appalachian Lily tree) is a medium-height tree. It grows on the east coast from southern Pennsylvania to northern Georgia. Along with limitations of geography, the trees are constantly threatened by development.
Because purity is key, beekeepers must be trained to have great critical timing skills and attention to detail. The trees typically bloom from June to August, a short amount of time in which beekeepers can bring their colonies to the trees to collect nectar from the flowers. The parameters for classifying the honey are very strict; if it has even small percentages of other varietals it can’t be sold as Sourwood. This is honey is so rare that a good crop sometimes only surfaces once every decade.
But for fans of honey (and there enough for there to be a Sourwood Festival at Black Mountain in North Carolina) all of this is worth it, for as journalist Carson Brewer once said, “most honey is made by bees. But Sourwood is made by bees and angels.”