That was supposed to be the name of the beekeeping store/cheese shop I never opened, or haven't yet opened. Time will tell! I have a bevy of bee tales for you this week:
This spring I started keeping mason bees. They do not make honey, are known as "gentler" than their frenetic honeybee counterparts, and are prolific pollinators, especially for orchard trees. Mason bees also live in a different sort of house, and lay their eggs inside of finger-sized tubes. I think they are great and they truly involve very little work. My total investment was $20, to make the deal sweeter, and you can order them online. The bees out there working on my neighbor's apple blossoms right now, as I type. Learn more at http://crownbees.com/.
I also learned something new about beekeeping this week. At the local senior center plant sale, I met a woman who paints replicas of Slovenian beehive panels. There is a folk art tradition in rural Slovenian beekeeping: they paint the end panels of wooden beehive boxes. Specifically, the images are saints, animals in various capers, tales of every day life. Most original panels were painted in the late 1700s and very few originals survive, but they are spectacular. The tradition does continue and also includes modern and humorous renditions of daily life scenes. I certainly got some ideas! Maybe I will paint a box with an image of Canterbury, my parrot, chasing Greystoke, my cat (as she does), or a honeybee queen in the style of Our Lady of Guadeloupe :)
Did you know there is a patron saint of beekeeping? That would be Saint Ambrose, who reminds us that without bees, life would lack sweetness. As well as other important things, like food and commerce. Ambrose, who lived in Rome and Milan in the 4th century, earned his patronage from his nickname, the "Honey Tongued Doctor," because to his eloquent preaching.
Last year, while visiting northwest Italy, I was in the mountains and found the craziest kind of honey. This is not your typical honeybee-made honey. It's made from the "dew" secreted by alpine aphids. Yes, dew means poo. But it's delicious!! Aphids make honeydew from plant sap, so it is "fast-tracked bug poo," as one person put it. High up in the mountains, the bugs rely on feeding from coniferous trees as opposed to meadow flowers.
The poet Coleridge wrote of honeydew:
"And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread,
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise."
Now, on to dessert. Homemade ricotta with local honey. This is so easy and so authentic. Perfect for this time of year. For the culinary record, ricotta is not technically cheese. It is an Italian word meaning "re-cooked." If you call it "ricotta cheese" in front of an Italian it will make them very sad. Traditionally it is made from whey, the byproduct of making cheese. That's the yellow liquid that rises up in your sour cream or cottage cheese. It can be cow, goat or sheep derived, it does not matter. Most of the stuff you get in the store is crappy and is full of coagulated milk with gums and stabilizers. It lacks the custardy finish and is often dry or more sour than real whey ricotta. Whatever the case, for this dessert, just get good ricotta from a specialty store or if you are feeling adventurous, make your own from milk, cream and lemon juice. True, it's not whey ricotta, but it's homemade, super simple and very creamy. Top it with local honey of any hue, and if you really want to swoon, a little piece of honeycomb and a wildflower.