We’re lucky that we are neighbours to a Jamie Oliver Teaching Kitchen in Orford Primary School. During late August, with the summer holidays coming to an end, we move our extraction and filtering equipment, together with honeybuckets and jars, into this pristine food-quality environment, we spin out and then cold-filter the honey harvest, prior to ripening the honey and then pouring it into jars.
And with all honey processing, it is imperative to keep bees out of the area. The bees understand the true value of honey, having worked so hard to bring it into the hive themselves. Be in no doubt that they will swiftly arrive to reclaim it, once they know that it is on tap in the honey kitchen. Precautions should be taken to keep bees (& wasps) away from the honeyfacturing process – with screens on open windows, if required.
This is an intensely artisanal process, full of nuances, since we’re aiming for top-notch honey production.
Our honey is harvested as comb, stored on the frame, properly capped with delicate white wax.
Hygiene is always top of the agenda (I have the Level 3 Food Safety and Hygiene for Supervisors qualification). Floors and surfaces should all be non-porous and washable and there should be separate hand washing and lavatory facilities available. Properly washed and dried kit, such as extractors, buckets, filters, all take time to prepare. Regulations state clearly that honey jars need to be new (never re-used), heat-sterilised and clean. Of course, a No Smoking sign is obligatory.
My process starts with using a hot air gun to gently melt back the snow-white cappings on the honeycomb. This is noisy and repetitive, but it is also a much less messy way of accessing the honey in the cells than the traditional method of uncapping with a knife.
Next, the opened frames are placed in my 8-frame extractor (a stainless steel radial Giordan from Italy), taking care to select combs of equivalent weigh opposite each other in the drum. Then, having checked that all the apparatus is correctly secured, the fun can begin with the honey spinning.
As the honey splatters against the inside of the drum and drains down to the bottom, the frames lighten. The drum is stopped and then the frames reversed for a short spin to empty out the last of their honey.
Finally, the honeygate at the bottom of the extractor is opened and the honey pulses into a filter-topped bucket.
In our processing schedule, we then put the honey through two, finer nylon filters and then rest it in a settling receptacle. Once the bubbles and any residual wax have risen to the surface, we pour the honey directly into the jar, checking that the weight is correct and seal it with a lid.
And there it is – a jar of Orford honey, untouched by human hand from bee to jar. Nature’s original luxury item, on sale at Pump Street Bakery in Orford. And well worth all that bother!