This honey’s fame and origins go back to ancient times. During the Middle Ages it was written in “The Romance of Short-Nosed William” that “Nule part n’ot remes mel meillour, Fors a Narbonne” (There is no better honey than that from Narbonne). Indeed, Narbonne honey was the most famous in France between the 12th and 20th centuries, though its use was mainly medicinal.
The production area, limited to the maritime Corbières due to the limestone and clay soils, was designed for agricultural and pastoral use. During the winter months the flocks would wait in this area for the spring thaw and the summer transhumance.
Narbonne honey is made in the garrigue (the Mediterranean scrublands) and was traditionally harvested around the feast of Saint John (June 24) from the last spring honey extractions. The beekeepers used to collect honey just once per year, before the summer dry season (hives with removable boards are a modern invention).
The honey owes its peculiar flavor to the nectar of the spring scrubland flowers, particularly rosemary (the honey is not made from a single kind of flower, but rosemary is dominant), thyme, and dorycnium.
A pale blond color, which is sometimes slightly golden, this honey brings together the sweetness and freshness of rosemary honey, the strong scent of thyme honey, and the delicacy of the other spring flowers found in the garrigue. The final product is harmoniously scented and balanced, with incomparable flavor.
During the 20th century garrigue was replaced by vineyards and Aleppo pine trees began taking over the area. This is due also to the fact that cattle rising – which for centuries had been the principle activity in this area – saw a sharp decline. These two factors have seen a reduction in rosemary scrublands and thus also the prime material for this honey.
Photos — Patrick Malan