Bee Haven Honey Farm wins international contest with 'Everlasting Gobstopper' honey
Bee Haven Honey Farm in Worcester has been making Vermont honey for more than 40 years. The farm specializes in producing Old World style, raw, unfiltered honey, which stems from the apiary owner’s strong history of beekeeping. That history was recognized recently by a prestigious industry award.
Genevieve and Richard Drutchas are this year's winners of the World's Best Tasting Honey competition. It's an honor they take home by winning the Center for Honeybee Research’s 2022 International Black Jar Honey contest. Competing against hundreds of apiaries from around the world, Bee Haven Honey won for their Japanese knotweed, buckwheat and goldenrod blend.
VPR’s Mitch Wertlieb spoke withGenevieve and Richard Drutchas of Bee Haven Honey Farm to learn about their winning blend. Their conversation below has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Mitch Wertlieb: What was it like when you found out that your honey sample was the grand prize winner in this year's contest? I mean, were you attending a big ceremony, watching and waiting from afar in Vermont when the winner was announced? How did that all go about?
Genevieve Drutchas: We were sitting around at home doing normal weekend things as beekeepers and I got a message from someone through our website that said “congratulations from Asheville.” And it was a person we didn't know who had looked us up and found the website and they had just announced us as winners.
I acted completely nutty and ran around jumping and screaming and said, “Oh my gosh, Rick, I think we might have been a finalist in the contest!” And we didn't really believe it until the next day when they posted the grand prize winner on their website and we had actually taken the grand prize.
That's incredible. Rick, you weren't even watching, you didn't even know? Somebody from somewhere else had to basically tell you you had won?
Richard Drutchas: Yeah, we didn't. It was a big surprise. And just the chances of us grabbing this award was, I thought it was pretty slim.
Yeah. I mean, it's quite remarkable. Countries including Italy, Brazil, Turkey, Australia all sent in these honey samples. Do you know about how many samples they had to choose from?
Genevieve Drutchas: I think there were about 600 this year. Some years there's more international entries and other years it's slightly leaning more towards the U.S.
So what does your raw honey look like? What does it taste like? And again, without having someone actually taste a spoonful — that would be the easiest way — if you had to describe its consistency, its taste, how would you go about doing that?
The winning honey was very thick and creamy, like if you imagine a creamed honey or honey butter. It's something that you have to really dig your spoon into, but it had a very silky, yummy, soft texture.
What's your favorite thing to put it on?
Butter and bread. Good, crusty bread. I also love putting it on Vermont cheese – drizzling it on—really yummy. I love goat and sheep's milk cheese and drizzling raw honey on that kind of cheese is amazing.
Rick, let me ask you this: What was the process like for putting your sample in? How did you go about submitting this, this sample of honey?
We have different apiaries all over, mostly in the Champlain Valley. It had been mostly sold, so all we had left was the home yard which is here in the Worcester Valley. And so we grabbed a bucket and we spooned it out into these plastic quart containers and sent them over, you know, and just said, “You know what the heck. Let's just give it a go with this.” And as you know, it turned out.
Unbelievable. Genevieve, let me ask you this. I mean, when you took that sample of honey that Rick was just talking about and decided to submit it, were you looking for something specific, because I'm wondering what the criteria was that the judges are looking for? What did you know about that?
We knew what they were looking for because we followed the contest and it's one of the reasons it means a lot to us that this is the contest we won. The Center for Honeybee Research really understands raw honey and it's what they're promoting.
And because we're really into raw honey, I did think that this was some unique honey that we made at our home apiary last fall. I call it 'Everlasting Gobstopper' honey from the Willy Wonka movie. You put it in your mouth and you have, you know, not just one flavor but you have like a five, six, seven-second experience with all these different flavors in your mouth. And it was one of those honeys. So, I liked it a lot and it is really meaningful to us as we come kind of in a slowing-down stage of our business, to have won a great award with our apiary that's here on our farm in Worcester. It was all a little bit too good to be true.
It really is quite amazing. I'm glad you mentioned the Center for Honeybee Research, because one of the things I wanted to ask you about was, you know, we've heard in recent years, I'd say in the last 10 to 20 years, a lot about the health of bee populations. And because it's so integral to what you do, do you follow that, do you worry about that at all, about how honey bees are doing generally?
Boy do we worry, and it's all very, very real. I mean, to compare what beekeeping in Vermont is like today with what it was 20 years ago, it's almost hard to believe how dramatic the changes are.
Richard Drutchas: You know, we've been struggling with the varroa mite, and that's been a tough one that's been around since the '90s. And then there's the whole pesticide issue.
Genevieve Drutchas: And habitat loss, toxicity. There's so many challenges that bees are facing.
Richard Drutchas: This award kind of says, like, “Look, there's this beautiful honey out there. Let's try to keep that going.” And that's the way we're looking at it right now.
I know it's early days since you won this big prize. But are you seeing any increase in business since the announcement was made?
We've mostly gotten emails from international locations and national locations, not too many local folks. And we no longer ship our honey, because we make a lot less than we used to. We really like to keep it local so that we have it for customers who've supported us for so many years.
I'm sure as news spreads, we'll see some bumps and we do have a nice supply of jars of that winning honey. And it does make us happy to think that it will be spread around locally for people to enjoy and maybe discuss over their kitchen table whether they think it was any good or not.
I have a feeling people are gonna think it's pretty darn good. And you know, I think it's also good that Vermonters get to have it primarily. I think that's good for most of us. I understand there's some prize money involved here. What do you plan to do with that prize money?
I think we'll do something sweet with it together like maybe, you know, go to a nice hidden Airbnb someplace in Vermont. We want to give a little bit of the money back to the Center for Honeybee Research, because what they're doing is so significant and important, and they're doing a really good job with it. It feels beautiful to make something that's a part of nature and to spread it around.
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