Six local chefs put their palates together at The Market Place restaurant on Wednesday to decide the World's Best-Tasting Honey at the final round of the third annual Black Jar Honey Contest presented by the Center for Honeybee Research.
The judges, including Mike Moore of Seven Sows Bourbon & Larder and the Blind Pig Supper Club and Brian Canipelli of Cucina24, sampled 14 varieties of honey from the Asheville area to as far away as Brazil, Turkey and South Africa to choose winners in categories such as “Best Local Varietal” and “Most Exotic.” A grand prize of $750 and the Black Jar trophy went to winner of the World's Best-Tasting Honey title; winners in each category received $150.
As indicated by the “Black Jar” in the contest's name, the competition is a blind tasting, so color, clarity and other factors besides taste play no role in the judging, according to contest organizer and local beekeeper Joan Chesick. The judges were asked not to discuss the entries with each other during the sampling.
Chesick says that in the past two contests, the group used local celebrities as judges, but as the contest grew, they saw the need to enlist the help of food experts. “We started getting so many international entries,” Chesick says, “we decided we needed to go with more discriminating palates.”
Each entry was assigned a random number and served to the judges from covered jars on black plastic straws. The judges rated each entry on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the most delicious. As the competition continued, judges often asked to re-taste certain entries, and they all took a break to refresh their palates with fresh apple and prosciutto before selecting the grand prize winner.
The judging was challenging, according to judge Jacob Sessoms, chef at Table, but there were notable characteristics to each entry. “What I noticed most about the honeys was acid,” he explains. “Even the least complex could have a lot of acid to them, and then some of them were very rich and lush. I was really trying to identify the provenance of each one.”
The Market Place chef and owner William Dissen, who also helped judge the competition, echoed Sessoms' interest in the origins of the entries. “The honeys we tasted ranged from mild and sweet to herbal and complex to funky and almost fermented,” he says. “Tasting these honeys allowed us to taste the essence of the land and what was growing on it – a true 'terroir.'”
Jars of honey from the contest will soon be offered for sale as a fundraiser for the Center for Honeybee Research, an Asheville-based organization that promotes awareness of and research on honeybees and natural beekeeping. For details on where to buy the honey, contact contest organizers at email@example.com.
The winners of the 2013 Black Jar Honey contest are:
"Best Local Blend" – Laurey Masterton, Weaverville, N.C., U.S.A. A blend of spring and summer wildflower.
"Best Local Varietal" – Paul Vonk, Mountain City, Ga, U.S.A. Took the highest score among many sourwood entries.
"Best Non-Local Blend" – Mary Jane Phifer, Mansfield, Mo., U.S.A. Foraged from rural prairie wildflowers.
"Best Non-Local Varietal" – Kelly Forrest, Parksville, British Columbia, (Vancouver Island), Canada. Collected from fireweed north of the Arctic Circle.
"Most Exotic" – Tarciano Santos da Silva, Ararangua, Santa Caterina, Brazil. “Bracatinga” honeydew variety.
"World's Best Tasting Honey" – Eddie Hart, Kynsa, Western Cape, South Africa. Collected from the 'fynbos' vegetation unique to the southernmost tip of Africa.