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Northeast Georgia is home to the best-tasting honey in the world, literally.
Sourwood honey, one of several honey varities produced by Virginia and Carl Webb of Clarkesville-based MtnHoney, won the "Best Honey in the World" award at the World Honey Show three different times. The victories were 2005 in Dublin, 2009 in Montpellier, France, and the most recent in October in Kiev, Ukraine.
"We are blessed to have sourwood, it produces some of the best honey in the world," Virginia Webb said. "Northeast Georgia is a very good region for beekeeping because of it."
The sourwood honey is Webb’s pride and joy. Made from the nectar of sourwood trees, also called the Lily-of-the-Valley trees, the honey has a bold, sweet taste with a lingering tangy aftertaste.
"You’re being judged against honeys from all over the world, quality honeys from a variety of different nectar sources," Virginia Webb said. "And again this year, they told me it was the flavor of our sourwood that really stood out."
Often considered a gourmet honey, sourwood is coveted by beekeepers across the Appalachian mountain range, where the trees grow in abundance. However, the variety is not easy to harvest. Because the tree blooms from mid-June to late July, summer rains often wash the nectar from the blooms, which can limit honey production. Careful beekeeping is required to keep the honey from being diluted with other nectars growing before and after the sourwood bloom.
Despite the difficulties, the Webbs certainly have the ability to produce quality honey every year. The couple has more than 100 years of combined experience in beekeeping. A third-generation beekeeper, Virginia Webb is president of the Northeast Georgia Mountain Beekeepers Association, former director of the American Beekeeping Federation and former director of the Georgia Beekeepers Association.She is also the only person in the United States to hold three master beekeeper certifications. Together, Virginia and Carl Webb have garnered more than 100 first-place awards for their honey and beeswax at several competitions.
However, MtnHoney isn’t the only award-winning local honey producer. Slade and Kristie Jarrett of Jarrett Apiaries in Baldwin won best in show at the Georgia Beekeeper’s Association State Honey Fair in Buford in September.
The fair has four different categories of competition: light, medium and dark honeys, and the coveted black jar competition, which is based on taste alone.
"That is your bragging rights in the black jar competition," Slade Jarrett said. "You don’t sell someone honey based on its clarity or aroma, you sell it to them based on its taste."
The Jarretts are part-time beekeepers, which means the couple tends to their hives between work and taking care of their children. This often forces the couple to wake up in the early hours of the morning and work late into the night.
They first became interested in beekeeping after talking with another local honey producer at an area farmer’s market. Slade Jarrett acquired a couple of bee colonies from a family member, and now the couple is entering the fifth year of beekeeping and managing more than 200 beehives.
"Most people are scared of bees, and most people don’t understand how they work," he said. "It is just amazing to pull a frame out and see a bee dancing to communicate with others, and how we can create queens by moving eggs into different cells."
Like Virginia Webb, Slade Jarrett attributes his success partly to the environment of North Georgia, which is well-suited to the production of honey.
"Because of our soil and types of flowers, our honey is a supreme honey, and even our basic wildflower honey is better than anyone else’s in the country," he said. "Any beekeeper in North Georgia can tell you that."
Webb’s honey can be purchased from www.mtnhoney.com or at their stand located at 349 Gastley Road in Clarkesville, and Jarrett’s honey can be purchased at www.jarrettbees.com or by calling 706-677-2854.