Tuesday, July 5, 2011

White Honey from the Canyonlands

The highlands of southern Brazil stretch along the border between two states, Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina. These highlands are known for being the coldest region in the entire country and are loved by outdoorsmen and hikers for their dense forests and deep canyons. In the heart of this absolutely beautiful and relatively pristine landscape sits the small town of Cambará do Sul.
Cambará do Sul

Cambará do Sul is a popular regional center for eco-tourism and for a town of only seven thousand souls hosts a surprising number of small inns and a couple of simple, good restaurants. But the town's main claim to fame has nothing to do with hikes, treks or tramps. Cambará do Sul is the home of the rare, expensive and sought-after product of an animal popularly called guaripo (scientific name of Melipona bicolor schenckis.)

Guaripos are a species of stingless bees, found only in the forests of these canyonlands, and the product which brings them, and Cambará do Sul, such fame is the white honey that they produce. Because this honey is produced in such small quantities and because of its itense floral flavor - the honey preserves more than 90% of the perfume of the flowers from which it's derived - white honey has achieved cult-like status in Brazil and consequently commands a very high price. Whereas standard commercial honey sells in Brazil for about R$10 per kilo (USD$2.70 per pound), white guaripo honey sells for seven times that amount - R$70/kg or USD$19/lb.

Guaripos collect nectar from only two species of bushes, both of which have white, highly-perfumed flowers. The lack of pigment in these flowers causes the whiteness of the honey the guaripos produce. One of the bushes they feed on has a strange name in Portuguese, carne-de-vaca, meaning "cow meat." It is a member of the Clethra genus, and bears the common name sweet pepper bush in the USA. The other source of nectar is the gramimunha bush (scientific name Weinmannia paulliniifolia Pohl) which exists only in this region and which doesn't have a common name in English.

Among the seven thousand residents of Cambará do Sul are 100 apiculturalists. They produce more than 200 tons of honey each year, but only one-quarter of that, 50 tons, is white honey. It is the star attraction at Cambará do Sul's annual Honey Festival, held at the end of April or in early May. If you want to try Brazilian white honey you just might have to make a journey to Cambará do Sul - most of the year's production is sold during the festival. We here at Flavors of Brazil are most curious to try it, but haven't been able to source it here in Fortaleza, nearly 2000 miles as the guaripo flies, from Cambará do Sul.

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