Dark and aromatic, mead was the traditional beverage served at Polish celebrations, and all families would make it at home. Different recipes for mead exist, with varying proportions of honey and water, from one part honey to three parts water, to two parts honey to one part water. This latter version, the most prized, is called półtorak and has an alcohol content of 17-18%. Mead is made by fermenting a solution of honey and water, with the result drier or sweeter depending on how diluted the honey is. Some traditional versions of mead are flavored with the juice of raspberries, apples or grapes.
The quality of the honey is of great importance. You have to know how to make honey in order to make the finest mead, because you need to know everything about your starting ingredients. The more honey used to make the mead, the longer it can be aged. The minimum aging time is four to five years, but bottles up to 10, 15 or even 20 years old still exist.
Making the mead involves first cooking the honey in water with local herbs, then fermenting the mixture in large steel barrels before aging it.
Earthenware bottles, lined with glass, have long been produced in Poland, and different shapes are used to store and age the mead. In the past, glass was too expensive and every family would fire their own earthenware dishes.
These days, barely a handful of mead producers remain, and only one of them is still using the authentic artisanal recipe. Tall, with enormous hands, light-blue eyes and a long face half covered by a curtain of white moustache, Maciej Jaros lives a few kilometers from Warsaw. With his family, he has been producing and selling an excellent mead since 1991, ever since private businesses became legal again in Poland.
On his farm, he tends 30 hives, which produce a dark, aromatic honey (the best for mead is heather honey or fir honeydew). The authentic recipe has been handed down through the generations, and came to Maciej from his mother Boleslawa. It was she who taught him the correct measurements and the exact nuances of flavors and fragrances. No surprise, given that according to Polish tradition it was the women who would prepare the mead, while the men took care of the beehives.
As well as honey, Maciej also makes the earthenware bottles in which it is stored. To protect the only remaining producer still making mead artisanally, with no additives, and to promote authentic Polish mead, in 2002 Slow Food launched a Presidium.
What is a Slow Food Presidia?
The Slow Food Presidia are projects sustaining quality production at risk of extinction, protecting unique regions and ecosystems, recovering traditional processing methods, safeguarding native breeds and local plant varieties.
Check out our website: http://www.slowfoodfoundation.com/presidia
Photo — Archivio Slow Food