Raw, pure comb honey (which includes portions of edible comb) is both delicious and gorgeous to look at, and Chef James Zoller of TRACE is excited to add it to his menu. Taking into account both the flavor and unique texture of comb honey, Zoller says he’ll pair it with bold, standout cheeses such as blues, tommes and aged Goudas, and he’s certain it will eventually find its way onto the dessert menu once Pastry Chef Angel Begaye gets ahold of it!
Zoller is one of only a few local chefs currently pursuing comb honey from apiaries maintained by Two Hives Honey, though that number is expected to grow. Tara Chapman, a relocated West Texas native, founded Two Hives Honey when she wanted to start keeping bees but didn’t have a yard large enough to house hives. Recognizing the benefits of having bees, a neighbor offered space in his backyard that was big enough for two hives (hence the name), and now Chapman maintains multiple hives at community gardens in the Zilker, East Austin and North Loop areas.
Chapman connects people to bees through educational tours and collaborations with the Sustainable Food Center, as well as through a fourth-grade school curriculum that she developed with a 2015 Austin Food & Wine Alliance grant. She also offers two innovative programs that help ease the transition into beekeeping. HoneyHomes installs and maintains hives on local properties. Homeowners complete an 18-month period of workshops and hands-on instruction, which prepare them to eventually take over hive maintenance. And BeeBuilders offers participants with space (or HOA) restrictions a more manageable solution for keeping bees by providing a hanging bamboo bee dwelling that houses 10 cocoons of either mason or leaf-cutter bees. “Solitary bees, such as mason bees, are the unsung heroes of the pollination world,” says Chapman. “They are better pollinators than honeybees.”
Two Hives Honey’s outreach programs actually helped get comb honey onto the menu at Parkside. Chef Nathan Lemley, who brought his entire cooking staff to Two Hives’ Zilker apiary for a tour, was delighted to discover a reliable source for the delicacy. Lemley has previously worked with, and served, comb honey before, and is a big fan of the texture it offers. “It allows the honey to really stand on its own,” he says. “And not just as the sweet component on the plate.” Currently, he’s working on a duck-and-honeycomb dish that will appear on the Parkside menu in the spring of 2016.
Chapman says that harvests occur twice a year—in late spring after the first nectar flow and in the fall after a second, smaller honey flow—and notes that one 4-by-4-inch square honeycomb is enough to supply about 16 cheese plates. She cautions, however, that similar to other local edibles in limited supply, local comb honey probably won’t be available year-round, so be sure to savor some while you can. —Gloria Lee
To learn more, visit twohiveshoney.com or call 512-814-6702.