When I lived in the 16th arrondisement of Paris, the local market at the metro Michel Ange-Auteuil was my usual stamping ground on a Saturday morning. It's a small market, but it has just about everything a cook could want. I had my favourite cheese stand, the best place to buy fresh apple juice and the organic vegetables all to hand. In addition, I had something I have yet to find in the new market in the 17th: a great honey stand. I hadn't realized how lucky I was to have such a good honey source until my brother gently pointed out that his honey supply was getting low and I started looking around for a new supplier. (For the last six years or so, I've been doing my best to keep my brother well stocked in a variety of honies as he is the biggest fan of honey outside of an A.A. Milne book that I have ever found...)
In the end I decided that although there are a lot of places in Paris to get honey, none of them have the charm of the honey you buy from M. Guy Allart of the Ruchers du Bel Air. I tried to catch M. Allart at the Auteuil market a few times, but as he is only there every other week I somehow never got lucky. Last week, I called him at home and confirmed that he would be there this Saturday and our plans were set: my brother, his very patient wife and I would make the pilgrimmage to the old neighborhood for honey.
Here you can see the historic meeting: honey afficionado meets honey supplier. A match made in heaven! (Note the photo on the right of M. Allart's father with a "beard" of bees!)
What sets M. Allart aside from other honey sellers? Firstly, I like the fact that he sells his own honey. He is the keeper of the bees that keep my brother happy. Secondly, he makes the tastiest miel au tournesol (honey from sunflowers) that I have ever found: nutty, creamy and opaque it is my personal favourite. Thirdly, he wins on the sheer variety of honies he produces. Miel de printemps (spring flowers), miel de chataigne (chestnut), miel de gatinais (a wildflower selection), miel de sapins des Vosges (pine trees from the Vosges mountains), miel de romarin (rosemary)...the list goes on and on. This is an impressive selection for one guy and his bees!
I asked M. Allart how he manages to ensure his bees produce each variety and he explained that he takes the hives around the country, according to the season and what is in flower. In each place he leaves the hives for anywhere from a few days to a week, just long enough to let the bees capture the height of the flowering season. Then he brings them home and extracts the honey. And how, you may wonder, does one extract honey from a honeycomb? It's very clever, really: you put it in a machine that spins the comb around and extracts the honey by centrifugal force! Apparently, the spinning cycle is not very fast as the heaviness of the honey ensures that it will slide out at a fairly low rpm.
And once you have finished admiring the many varieties of honey at M. Allart's stand you can go on to check out the honey products he sells with them: hydromiel (a kind of modern-day mead), pain d'épices (a spiced sweet cake, kind of like gingerbread), honey flavoured candies and nougat.
My brother bought five jars of honey, some hard candy and nougat and I bought a jar of the miel de printemps, though I didn't need any. Yesterday morning for breakfast I spread it on a slice of toast and found that it had a very uncomplicated vanilla taste, almost like marshmallow. The spring flowers honey was perfect on buttered toast, but I would use something with more flavour to it - the chestnut, pine or rosemary variety - if I were making a honey-mustard sauce or salad dressing.
To find M. Allart, you only need to visit the market at the Michel Ange-Auteuil metro on the number nine line. His stall is across the street from the market, in front of the Monoprix grocery store. Have a chat with him and ask him about his wares. You'll be swept away by his enthusiasm and by his products!