July 7, 2004
Les Abeilles is a tiny little store perched at the top of the Butte-aux-Cailles, in the 13th arrondissement, and incidently just a skip and a hop from my office (which has, in passing, been trying quite hard to keep me away from my regular blogging schedule, sending me this way and that, thus tragically depriving me of a decent Internet connection in the evening).
As the name implies to the French-friendly ear, Les Abeilles is a beekeeping store, which is unusual enough in Paris. They sell you a certain number of tools and ingredients and foodstuff and vitamins to take care of your beehives, and they themselves actually own and maintain a few in the nearby Kellerman park, which I find utterly fascinating (fume-flavored honey, anyone?). But about apiculture I know next to nothing, so I won't dwell on that, but will certainly look into it when I get a chance, as this is bound to be the next hip thing to do with your balcony. Won't my neighbors just love that.
Besides beekeeping gear, and this is the reason why I walked into the store in the first place, Les Abeilles also sells a range of bee-derived products : body care products, gelée royale, propolis (that magic golden stuff that looks like wax and that you're supposed to ingest in small quantities to strengthen your immune system), and -- let's cut to the chase and talk about what we're really interested in -- honey-based food products.
They have a quite impressive range of different honeys, in small, medium or large jars, produced by bees fed on different kinds of pollen, from flowers or shrubs or trees. You can sample any of them with mini ice-cream spoons, from a tray of jars dedicated to that purpose. In addition to "simple" honeys, they offer spreads that are a mix of honey and nuts, allowing you to start the day with a honey-hazelnut toast for instance -- quite the energy boost I'm sure. They also sell nonettes, those small honey cakes filled with orange marmelade or some other kind of jam (quite similar to the mignonnettes I bought in Bourogne), and I remember seeing some bonbons au miel, those little hard candies made with honey, traditionally used as a fine remedy against sore-throats.
One of the honeys caught my eye. It was a miel de bruyère, marked more specifically as "callune" : this is a rarer heather honey, produced by bees fed on a specific kind of heather with pink little bell flowers. Its particularity is to develop very small crystals of sugar : freckles in the pure, liquid gold. The result is unusual and strikingly pretty, especially when held to the light. I asked to have a taste, and was instantly won over : a simple drop of this honey on the tip of your tongue, and your mouth is filled with the multi-layered sweetness of honey, so much more complex that white sugar, a taste of sunny flower fields and cool, shadowy undergrowth, with a subtle hint of bitterness, while you feel, and almost hear, the tiny sugar flakes dissolving against the roof of your mouth.
I got a small jar, fully aware that those fragile little crystals would probably be indiscernible on a toast of bread, but wanting it anyway, a prized item to add to my cabinet de curiosités gustatives.
At that point I spotted a quite large hunk of homemade pain d'épice, the French honey spice cake, and I got a slice of that too. I am particularly fond of pain d'épice, I find it to be the perfect breakfast food -- particularly with a cup of tea and, in the winter, a nicely ripe, juicy pear. And this one turned out to be, by far, the best pain d'épice I have ever had in my whole life : fresh, flavorful, and incredibly moist. I'll definitely go back for more.
And while I was paying for my purchases, I took an interested glance at a leaflet on the counter, vaunting the incredible health-improving and life-lengthening qualities of a certain product. "C'est pour les abeilles *", said the white-bearded store owner. Oh. Right.
21 rue de la Butte aux Cailles
01 45 81 43 48
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