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Miel: Un Produit Précieux

Buzzing Through History

The area that is now France was once Gaul, inhabited by ancient Celtic peoples. For the Celts, bees – and products like mead, beeswax, and honey –  were of significant cultural importance. As such, both bees and beekeepers were celebrated as divine in nature. As France evolved throughout the years, bees and honey continued to be culturally significant. Under the rule of Charlemagne, there was an established beekeeper in each of the royal estates. They were tasked with producing honey, beeswax, and mead for the kingdom.

During an excavation project on the church of Saint-Brice in 1653, over 300 golden bee figurines were discovered in the tomb of Childeric I. Two hundred years later, these “Childeric bees” inspired Napoleon, who incorporated the golden bee into his coat of arms. Throughout his reign, Napoleon used the golden bee as a motif for richness and power. 

The Hundreds of Flavors of Honey

Miel, or honey, production is widespread in modern-day France. Across France’s 22 regions, every single one produces honey in some capacity. In 2022, France exported over 11,000 tons of honey, and 2023 numbers are likely to be just as large. The largest producing region is Rhone-Alps in the Southeast. The smallest producer is the island region of Corsica. Using regional honey is an effective mode of moderating allergy flare-ups related to pollen, grass, or other environmental factors.  

Each region contains a variety of flavors within its borders. Honey’s flavor is dependent upon the types of flowers which the nectar is retrieved from, the weather, and even the season. Honey made exclusively from lavender fields, for example, has a mild sweetness and notes of citrus. Le miel de haute montange, or High Mountain Honey, is produced in regions like the Western Pyrenees and is considered a premium flavor. The honey is considered to have hints of fruit and berry, a thick texture, a darker color, and a deeper flavor. 

In celebration of bees and honey, the Fête du Miel, or honey festival, is held annually in Mouans-Sartoux, a small town just west of Nice. The festival has been held annually as a celebration of beekeeping and honey production. This year’s festival is the 30th anniversary! The dates vary slightly year to year, but it is traditionally held near the end of April.

Roughly 8,000 honey aficionados flock to the festival every year. There, they explore the flavor varieties present in the Provence region as well as in neighboring areas. Some common inclusions include Lavender Honey, High Mountain Honey, and Arbutus Honey. Many food trucks and stands are lined up along the festival as well, serving menus full of honey-based items. Besides tasting, attendees can attend exhibitions and activities linked to beekeeping and honey as well!

One of the most popular exhibitions is a demonstration performed by an apiculteur, or beekeeper. A few beekeepers will bring a glass hive, which allows the onlookers to see the internal structures and the movement of the bees. The exhibition guides the audience through the process of making honey and how the bees interact with the hive. Some other exhibitions include live extraction from hives. 

Children are also given tons of opportunities to explore what bees mean to the natural environment and the future. They can taste honey, decorate wax candles, and even go on a “pollen hunt.” The pollen hunt takes the children into a field to search for bees on flowers and teach them about how pollen extraction occurs. 

Recently, the festival has included a “honey garden” as well. This garden is placed in a field in the center of a nearby castle. The field is filled with plants from around the various regions represented at the festival and shows onlookers the various plant types that the honey they’ve been tasting comes from!

For a nation with such a rich cultural attachment to bees and the production of honey, it’s only natural for the citizens to celebrate this produit précieux (precious product). 

Written by Kaleb Houle-Lawrence, University Intern

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