By Rachel Travers / Photos by Michael Piazza
A few steps below sidewalk level, just outside of Harvard Square, is a tiny shop called Follow the Honey, a hub for all things honey and bee-related, and an important part of the local food community. It is truly “honey central:” the staff will happily do an informal tasting on request and you will walk out informed and excited about this life-affirming nectar.
Mary Canning, long-time Cambridge resident, her husband Ingo Winzer, and her daughter Caneen, artist and honey sommelier, are the driving force behind this small but important shop, which has a similar energy to a beehive. Literally, there is a hive on their back deck; but symbolically, the shop is a hive of activity in a low-key way—customers slip in and out either delivering honey or purchasing it. Some come in to purchase “bee” gifts. Others come bearing information to share, or looking to learn. And always tastes of honey are being offered.
Follow the Honey’s mission is to share and teach the terroir of their honeys—the influence of seasonality, soil, sun, water, or drought on the taste of a honey and to understand this in the context of the location it comes from. Along with being exposed to the best of what’s local, they sell a multitude of honey from around the United States, and, indeed, the entire globe.
Fruit, butter, watermelon, hazelnuts, caramel, pears, grapes, geranium, toffee, licorice, dates, citrus peel, almonds, vanilla pods, wet hay, ripe banana, delicate flowers. As with wine, there is a huge vocabulary that is used to describe the flavors of honey. And like food, descriptions of honey include references to their aromas, texture, and colors.
Equally important in a discussion about local honey is the name of the beekeeper who provides the raw product, rather than the source of the pollen. Mike Graney, from Jamaica Plain, is known for producing a “rough honey,” slightly grainy and unfiltered (with bits of wax and pollen), reminiscent of a wild garden with a trace of acacia and goldenrod.
Tim McFarline of Deerfield, Vermont, supplies a wildflower single floral pollination that doesn’t exist around Boston. Andy Baer of Cambridge has hives that go for orange blossom and purple loosestrife. And the Bedford, Massachusetts spring honey from former MIT molecular biology researcher Birgit deWeerd, is very light and redolent of clover and apple blossoms. The seasons and nectar collection play into the flavors as well—and even the colors: early summer honey is apt to be light and very floral; autumn’s nectar will yield later earthier tones, with darker, stronger flavors.
Canning explains: “There is no monolithic taste from Belmont or Jamaica Plain or Watertown, or where our bees are in the North Quabbin Woods region. There are blends of flavor cultivated from the nectar flow of flowers blooming wildly in proximity to each other, such as apples, blueberries, goldenrod, and beyond. And there is no dependable way to assess whether or not next year’s harvest will replicate this year’s.”
So, if you happen to fall in love with a honey, buy as much as you can—you may not find it again.
Follow the Honey 1132 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge MA 617.686.1469 followthehoney.com
Rachel Travers is a freelance food and lifestyle writer who contributes to the Boston Globe and Edible Boston. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.