Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Visit to the Dutch Gold Facility in Pennsylvania

In the book Robbing the Bees (link goes to my book review) by Holley Bishop, she talks about the first honey bear container's creation leading to a family business that is known as Dutch Gold, in Lancaster, PA.

In addition to a display of historic beekeeping equipment, they sell containers and an assortment of varietal honeys. They buy honey from all over the world and stack the barrels in their warehouse. Because the honey sugars, the first step is to put the barrels in a hot room for about 3 days before pouring it into a large vat. Through a glass window we watched how they steam the honey barrels to get out all of the product. The honey is then heated to 180+ degrees, blended into one of their recipes to get the desired flavor, cooled to about 140 degrees, and piped into bottles. It's honey bottling on a scale I've never seen -- a true mechanical assembly line moving at a rapid pace.The honey has to stay hot to move swiftly through the machines.

Each bottle is weighed, labeled and boxed to be shipped. At the time we visited, they were bottling for Costco, which has its own honey label. Many grocery store chains also carry Dutch Gold honey, but under the store's own label.

Our guide assured us that they go through strict protocols to make sure the honey they buy both domestically and abroad is high quality. They send honey samples to a lab in Germany to test it for antibiotics and other impurities before they agree to purchase from any beekeeper.

It was a fascinating visit, but one that convinced me -- more than ever -- of the importance of buying local honey. Yes, super-heated honey will not sugar, is a pretty color in the jar, and will likely have a consistent, if generic, honey flavor. But the minerals and enzymes that make honey something more than liquid sugar are gone. If you go to the National Honey Board's website, you can download a free PDF about the "Reference Guide to Nature's Sweetener" to learn more.

In return for our free tour, we bought two bottles of varietal honey we don't see often: raspberry and orange blossom. Our tradition of buying honey while traveling continues -- more on the "real, local" honey we purchased in a future post.

Photo highlights:

My favorite beekeeper.

An historic photograph.

A collection of old smokers.

Skeps and hives.

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