Preparation for Clear honey at Show Level
WITH THANKS TO TONY KIRKBY
Winning the class for liquid honey at the National Honey Show requires true dedication. A past winner said he bought a box of 50 high quality jars, and rejected over 40 of them! The NHS is something quite exceptional, not matched elsewhere in the world. For us mere mortals, such extremes are not necessary, but extreme cleanliness is. Any speck of dirt or pollen grain will carry a penalty.
The first step is to read the rules of the show and adhere strictly to them. Type of jar and lid, labelling, entering the right class for light, medium or dark. If in doubt about this, find someone with the test slips and check according to the instructions.
Aroma and taste are given high marks by any good judge. They are subjective, so in a close contest there could be an element of luck, but the processing of the honey can have a big influence. High temperatures and unnecessary exposure to air degrade the honey to some extent, and should be avoided. So, how to proceed.
First, select a good-tasting batch of frames. A low water content is desirable, the judge will look for high viscosity. Ideally avoid the centrifuge and let enough honey drain out after uncapping. This will conserve aroma and avoid entraining a mass of tiny air bubbles, which are the devil to eliminate. But if you find this impractical you will still have a chance after centrifuging.
The honey should be bright and clear, which means filtering with the finest mesh you can get. Allow the honey to stand in a tank long enough to let the bubbles rise to the surface, then fill your sparkling clean jars carefully to avoid more bubbles.
After a few days carefully inspect your selected jars. Shine a bright torch through the jar to be sure the honey has not started to crystallize – sometimes this process starts after a week or two, even though it may not be completed for months. This is annoying as it cannot be entered for naturally set honey perhaps until another year. Remove the lid (and enjoy the smell) to check the surface of the honey. Shine the torch on the surface, and then shine the beam across the surface from side to side while lookng at the surface from a low angle. You may be surprised and disappointed to see a dense mass of otherwise invisible bubbles on the surface. If this is the case, they have to be skimmed off as best you can, it is not easy. One way is to start with the jar just about full to the brim, as you will remove a lot of honey before you are done. You must be able to top up with (non-aerated) honey as necessary.
If really fine bubbles are not a problem but there are a few bigger ones, these are easily removed for example by just covering them with the tip of a knife and lifting them off.
You may have read the advice to take a clean lid to the show and changing to it before you put the jar on the show bench. This is very bad practice, you will not be penalised if there is unavoidably some honey on the inside of the lid, but you will have lost most of that desirable aroma, and probably have collected dust from the air in the room due to all the activity. Did I say that all processing must be in a dust-free room, if such a thing is possible. Good luck!
Granulated or naturally set honey
The following has kindly been contributed by Mary Hill, one of the BBKA Honey Judges:
The first thing to do is to understand how granulated honey is different from soft set honey. Granulated honey is honey which has been extracted and after filtering is put straight into jars. It is NOT stored in tubs, melted and put into jars or mixed with other honeys before jarring.
The decision to produce good granulated honey must be made before extraction starts.Having made this decision make sure you extract the honey on a warm day straight from the hive. If you have to store it keep the supers in a warm place. Honey which has some rape nectar in it gives a finer grained honey.
After extraction the honey must be filtered through the finest filter you can find. Very fine nylon or a polyester fabric. I use a Strainaway with 100×100 filter. These are not made any more but you might get one secondhand. For smaller amounts Lakeland Strainer Jug is very good, but again this is out of production.
Store the honey in a settling tank overnight. Estimate how much honey you have and decide that the first third is going to be your very good honey. Wash the jars in hot water and let them drain dry. If you use a drying cloth make sure it is not fluffy.
Fill the jars so that there is no gap between the top of the honey and the bottom of the lid. Store the jars on a LEVEL shelf.
After three days remove any scum that has risen to the surface by placing a piece of clingfilm on the surface to pull off the scum. Put the jars back on the shelf and wait for the honey to set. You don’t need to do anything else. The quicker it sets the finer the granulation will be.
When it has set do not worry about any frosting that occurs, this is a natural process. In a show the only penalty would be if someone had honey as good as yours but without frosting.
Before entering in show carefully check all over the jar for “foreign bodies”, most of them will be on the bottom. Granulated honey that is clean ie no black dots will win a prize because not many people plan ahead. Make sure that the lid is clean inside.