South Carolina's rural roots can be seen all around the state from the old tobacco barns and the still-thriving cotton fields visible off Interstate 20 in the Pee Dee to the peach and apple orchards across the Upstate and the rice fields along the coast. South Carolina was built on the produce from the land.
That tradition continues today with locally grown and milled products making their mark in gourmet kitchens around the country. And very few "crops" taste as much of their location as honey.
Honey is by default a product of its location. Bees rarely travel more than a few miles to find the flowers and water sources they need to create their hive-sustaining nectar. For most of South Carolina, that means our honey tastes of wildflowers and crops in bloom. The exact mix and match of which depends on what's growing where the bees live. There are about 3,000 beekeepers and honey producers across South Carolina. Most are hobbyists who enjoy their own honey (it is believed that using locally made honey helps reduce seasonal allergies to the very blooms that helped make the honey) or sell to the larger commercial operations.
Honey is a nearly $2 million a year industry in South Carolina, which is a lot of honey, but not on the scale of the state's major crops.
"Most of the crops in the state don't produce much nectar," says Jennifer Tsuruda, apiculture specialist at Clemson University.
The most sought-after honey flavor is sourwood, and it is also the rarest because it's only produced in the foothills of the South Carolina Upcountry.
"I'll do a honey tasting and most people tend to like the lighter honeys," Tsuruda says.
Lighter honeys tend to be sweeter and darker-colored honeys tend to have more complex flavors, Tsuruda says.
One of her favorite South Carolina flavors is cotton honey, made by bees that collect pollen from cotton plants. "Cotton honey is kind of medium," Tsuruda says. "Buckwheat is a really strong one, it's almost molasses-like."
Blueberry and blackberry nectars also produce a medium-colored honey.
No matter what your taste, you are likely to find one you like in South Carolina. Here are some of our honey-selling beekeepers and how you can enjoy one of the state's sweetest liquid assets.
Beewell Honey, in Pickens, is like a one-stop shop for honey enthusiasts. You can choose from their own wildflower, sourwood and Echinacea honey or shop the specialty honeys Beewell gets from other regional producers, including orange blossom, star thistle, clover and tupelo honey in season. Beewell also offers classes in beekeeping and honey harvesting and sells bees and other products to get you started on your own hobby.
Bee City, Cottageville. As its name indicates, Bee City has its own hives and bottles and sells its own honey - tupelo honey to be exact. But this location has so much more. One hive works under glass so visitors can see all the inner workings. Run by second-generation beekeepers Scott and Bridgett Biering - Scott's parents started the farm - Bee City also has a petting zoo for the kids and a café in case you get hungry during your visit. It's like visiting your grandparents: The folks here are very friendly and their product is as sweet as, well, tupelo honey.
Carolina Honeybees, Pickens. Master beekeeper Charlotte Anderson makes the much sought after sourwood honey here in the South Carolina foothills as well as wildflower honey. Anderson also sells beeswax products, including soap, candles and lip balm. She sells her goods from her website and at select locations, including the Pickens County Museum Gift Shop, Hagood Mill Gift Shop and Swamp Rabbit Café & Grocery.
Black's Peaches, York. This family-owned business has been selling locally grown produce since 1923. Founded by the great-grandfather of the current owner, Black's specializes in peaches and strawberries, but also carries several of honey varieties. The farm also hosts the annual Autumn Farm Festival.
Blue Pearl Farms, McClellanville. In addition to honey and bee products, Blue Pearl sells blueberries, grapes and fresh veggies on a pick-your-own farm. They also sell live blue crab. The honey is the wildflower variety and you can pick some up during a tour of the farm just north of Charleston in the historic fishing village of McClellanville. You also can volunteer to work on the farm or take a class in beekeeping to learn how to collect your own honey.
Check out the whole list of Certified SC grown honey producers: www.certifiedscgrown.com