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The bee’s knees: Hilltop Honey

The bee’s knees: Hilltop Honey

by Great British Chefs 02 January 2019

After an injury meant he couldn’t continue his work at a coal yard, Welshman Scott Davies turned to beekeeping as a form of therapy. Today he produces and sources some of the best honeys in the world, highlighting the many different flavour profiles this golden nectar contains.

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The humble honey bee has had a tough time of late. Their numbers are declining in the UK due to a number of factors (such as the use of pesticides), which is catastrophically bad news for us humans as they’re a vital part of our entire agricultural system. So everything we can do to keep these bees alive and thriving is important – and buying good-quality honey is one of them.

By purchasing honey from producers who work with ethical, sustainable beekeepers, you’re not only helping to support hive systems in the UK and beyond – you’re also getting a product that’s a world away from the mass-produced, one-dimensional generic honeys that line shop shelves. One of the most bee-focused honey producers is Hilltop Honey, which supports these fascinating creatures in every way it can. Rather than being a well-established business with years of beekeeping experience behind it, however, it all began seven years ago when labourer Scott Davies injured his back and had to rethink his future.

‘I discovered my passion for beekeeping back in 2011, after a severe back injury left me unable to continue my previous line of work in the local coal yard,’ he explains. ‘My parents bought me my first beehive, and I instantly became fascinated by the nature of the bees and all the work they do to create this delicious golden nectar. I was so proud of my first harvest from the hives – I jarred up all my hard work from that summer and shared it with my friends and family. Much to my surprise, it turned out that the local shops were keen too.’

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Scott's beekeeping hobby almost instantly transformed into a business, and his original hive now sits alongside dozens more
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As well as producing its own Welsh blossom honey, Hilltop Honey sources other top-quality honeys from the UK, Europe, South America and New Zealand

What started out as a hobby to help Scott get out of the house and recuperate from his injury quickly grew into a business, with local shops happily snapping up his jars of homemade Welsh honey. With any work as a labourer ruled out, Scott had happened upon a totally different career path, and began his mission to make quality honey more readily available across the UK. This meant not only increasing the number of hives at his home in Newtown, Powys, but seeking out beekeepers in other parts of the world who shared his passion. ‘We have between forty and fifty beehives locally, from which we solely produce our very sought-after Welsh blossom honey,’ says Scott. ‘These are proudly managed by our head beekeeper – my dad! To produce the rest of our vast and diverse range of products we work with beekeepers who share our values and pass our strict quality, certification and taste tests.’

In the seven years since Scott became the proud owner of his first hive, Hilltop Honey has quickly become known for producing and sourcing some of the best honey available in all the major supermarkets. As well as the Welsh blossom honey his father creates, he sources heather honey from Scotland; heads to Spain for orange blossom, lavender and thyme honeys; gets eucalyptus honey from Uruguay; seeks out the very best Manuka honey from New Zealand and imports the famous Yucatan honey from Mexico (among many others).

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As well as the honey itself, Hilltop Honey sells jars and boxes of cut comb as well as bags of bee pollen
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The sustainability of the bees and their wellbeing is paramount to Hilltop Honey and all the beekeepers it works with

It’s not just honey that Scott sources either; bee pollen and pieces of cut honeycomb are proving popular too. ‘It’s difficult to harvest cut comb as it’s such a labour-intensive process,’ says Scott. ‘It’s down to the bees to create the delicious hexagonal shapes, but it’s up to the humans to decide on the right frame to use in the hive before cutting it up and packaging it. When it comes to pollen, different bees have different roles within the hive, and certain bees will also pick up pollen as well as nectar whilst out foraging. They keep this pollen in little baskets on their hind legs called corbicula. When they return to the hive to deposit their nectar, the filled corbicula mean the bees are too big to get into the entrance. This means any excess pollen gets naturally knocked off and falls onto trays outside the hive, which we can then collect.’

These three ingredients – honey, pollen and honeycomb – are some of the most unique and flavourful products on the planet. Scott wants people to know that the catch-all term ‘honey’ doesn't do justice to the variety and diversity of flavours this incredible stuff contains, as different types of honey can have wildly different characteristics. ‘Each batch of honey is entirely unique, with different aromas, colours, flavours and viscosity,’ he explains. ‘For example, our acacia honey is very light in colour with a mild, sweet flavour, whereas our Manuka honey is amber, dark and herbaceous. Although they both share the name of ‘honey’, they are very, very different.’

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Not all honeys are the same; they can differ greatly in taste, texture, colour and aroma
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Flavour notes can range from light and floral to dark and herbaceous

While Hilltop Honey sources its honey from all over the world, its signature Welsh blossom honey is still made in Scott’s hometown in Powys, which gives him the chance to continue working with hives – a passion that kick-started his business in the first place. ‘The whole experience of beekeeping allows me to clear my mind and takes me away from all the stress of day-to-day life,’ he says. ‘All my focus goes onto the bees; the noise and sheer volume of them is incredible, which is why I find it so therapeutic. Beekeeping is very hands-on, as you have to make sure they have enough food throughout the seasons and are free from diseases. Ultimately, however, bees have been looking after themselves (and us, by pollinating a variety of crops) for millions of years.’

The best producers are often headed up by incredibly passionate people, and Hilltop Honey is living proof of that. Scott has created a business that not only offers amazing honeys boasting a cacophony of different flavours to the UK; it supports beekeepers and their precious bees in an environmentally friendly and sustainable way. So while a Welsh coal yard lost a member of its team seven years ago, the rest of the UK gained the chance to taste proper artisan honey in the process. And for food-lovers everywhere, that is very good news indeed.

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The bee’s knees: Hilltop Honey

 
 

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