It is the holidays…crazy, right? Even if, as I have, you try to keep it small and easy, it is still nuts. That is when you need to be able to pull out a spread that requires no actual cooking but is a delight of flavors. This is one of my favorite combinations of flavors and textures…honey, cheeses, nuts, a nice chewy baguette, and fresh pears.
Honey is a delicacy. We may buy it at a modest price at the grocery store, but the more you know about how bees do their work, the more you will want to learn about your local honey producers. There is an elegance to honeymaking and beekeeping that is lost on a supermarket shelf. Consider that in its lifetime, one bee will make only 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey. And, in each trip to collect pollen or nectar, a bee will visit 50 to 100 flowers. And, a single bee can make up to 30 of these trips a day. These creatures are stunning. We speak of terroir with wine where a grape vine reflects the earth beneath it. Bees reflect all of the flowers and blooms in up to a 10 mile radius. And they concentrate that flora into the confines of a honeycomb.
Now, a honeycomb, itself, is a wonder. Mathematicians and scientists the world over, and for millennia, have studied the simple yet profoundly perfect structure of a honeycomb. Six sided regular polygons (hexagons) possess incredible storage and structural efficiency. Only two other regular polygons (squares and triangles) nest like hexagons can, leaving no gaps in the structure. Yet hexagons are unparalleled in their capacity among these shapes. Bees consume honey and the sugars are transformed into wax in certain bees in certain stages of their life. Bees consume up to eight pounds of honey to produce one pound of wax. The wax is shaped by the bees into the honeycomb, which is the structure in which bees raise their young bees and store surplus honey. And all of this is in service of the queen who spends her life reproducing and carrying on the life of the hive.
The hive is a community of cooperative effort and incredibly hard work, all things considered. It is a self-organizing system and a beautiful symphony of activity that yields honey and wax that we have enjoyed for ages. Serving honey, and honeycomb, to your guests is truly a showing of nature’s most impressive feats, the magic of which scientists and organization theorists will continue to study and celebrate.
We can celebrate the bees by becoming aware of the bees around us. They truly hold our horticultural world together. And, therefore they hold humanity together. Honey is no less than a symbol of the way we are all bound together on this Earth. What little I know about bees is that their efforts cause the pollination of the fruits and plants that we and the entire animal kingdom rely upon in one way or another in the entirety of the food chain. Bees and their hives and the honey speak volumes about our interdependence on an ecological scale. But I also like it as a symbol of our interdependence as a community, on a scale from the family all the way up to the global population as a whole. What a nice thought on which to meditate during the Christmas Season.
a jar of honeycomb with honey
several selections of good cheese (this is hard sharp Cheddar and Brie)
Let the cheese sit out for a bit before serving. Remove a portion of the honeycomb to a plate and surround it with a pool of honey. Take great care to not damage the comb as you remove it from the container. Slice the baguette. Place all of this together on a large tray or on several plates with cheese knives for the cheeses and the honey comb. A sharp knife will allow guests to slice pears as they like, or you can slice them ahead of time and dunk them in lemon laced water to prevent browning.
I purchased most of these items at a new market in Dallas called Bolsa Mercado. It is the child, or perhaps the incarnation of what the main Bolsa Restaurant started out to be. Bolsa is a wonderful restaurant that serves fresh and local foods in the Bishop Arts District. This new market is gorgeous and it is the sort of place that we in Dallas always complain about NOT having. In my mind, this shop was plucked straight out of San Francisco. I was immediately transported to Tartine in my imagination as I walked in the door. I went for coffee, but stayed to enjoy a Wild Boar Kolache and to shop for a number of my favorite local and not-so-local foods.
Of note, they carry the full line of honey products from The Texas Honeybee Guild, whose bees made the honeycomb that I served here. They also have several other local honeys, which I will try in turn. They carried a full line of grains and such from the Homestead Gristmill, which is a shop in a Mennonite Community outside of Waco. If I am correct about the specific source, it is the same community as Homestead Heritage, which is a wonderful place to visit and to enjoy an impressive display of wood working, pottery making, metal-crafting, and grain production. In fact, Frank Strazza at Homestead Heritage made the bed in which we sleep. They do incredible custom woodwork. But, I digress. Take your kids here for an afternoon and you will be smitten. There are goats and gardens and quilts and ice cream and a great store.
Also available at Bolsa Mercado are Take Home dinners, cheeses, including the Veldhuizen Sharp Cheddar that I purchased for this array. They also have salumi, house made sausages and meats from various local ranches and farms. Also available are the sometimes hard to find, hard to live without, cooking gems like Srirachi, Sambal Oelek, truffle oil, clotted cream, fresh veal stock, fresh ham hock stock, and beautiful sea salts. But their emphasis on local producers and food artisans is truly admirable. They have several Texas Extra Virgin Olive Oils such as the Texas Olive Ranch and Texas Hill Country Olive Company including their Sola Stella and Terra Verde. I love to see all of these in one place.
They also have goodies from Dallas favorites, Dude, Sweet Chocolate and the Kessler Cookie Company. There were wines and beverages galore. Without a doubt, you will leave carrying armloads of little goodies you had no idea you needed. I have not even scratched the surface with this list.
Best of all, they have pastry and coffee at breakfast and a full line of lunch selections. All are locally made, all fresh, all presumably fantastic. I will be back for lunch. And, if you have not completed your Christmas list, grab a few favorite olive oils, wines and honeys and give them to your friends this year instead of disposable, Made in China, junk. You will want to linger and take it in with all of your senses.
We have several of these wonderful little shops in Dallas, folks, and we simply must support them in droves or we cannot complain about having a barren scene of funky little local coffee and food shops. This is the answer to the glut of over-commercialized chain life that Dallas can tend to be.
Bolsa Mercado is located in the Bishop Arts District at 634 West Davis Street , Dallas, TX 75208. For more information on honey and honeybee facts, consider these sources which helped me as I pondered this post.
The Honeybee Conjecture by Ivars Peterson