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Honey Journal #31 — Portugal and Madeira

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If you heard the show today, Thursday, June 10, third hour, you heard the world’s first live radio honey tasting. These are the two honeys that were experienced by Dennis and two volunteers from the audience. I added commentary.

Honey Journal #31. Honey from Portugual and the island of Madeira

Names: (1) Mel Estrella. You can buy it in fine food stores in Lisbon, Portugal or on the Internet here. (2) Mel de Abelhas You can buy it: In fine food stores on the island of Madeira.

Country: Portugal

PortugalHoney2.jpg portugal honey 2 picture by allen1844Color: (1) Black strap Molasses (2) Golden brown

Flavor: (1) Deep earthy almost primitive flavor. Dark chocolate (I mean 80% cocoa) with hints of pepper and oak. Has a slightly medicinal aftertaste that lingers longer than one would like (2) Rich, creamy sweet butter with notes of golden raisins.

Consistency: (1) Thin. (2) Medium thick. Drops leisurely from the spoon.

Fragrance: (1) Intense black dirt and wild flower scent (2) Box of Del Monte golden raisins.


Here we have two honeys from Portugal : one from the western coastal mountains of European continent, specifically from Serra da Estrela Natural Park, and the other from the fabled island of Madeira, two hundred miles southwest of Lisbon. The people in these two places speak the same language, Portuguese; but the bees do not. Or, at least, you wouldn’t think so based on how different these two honeys taste.

The first from Portugal is sharp and sophisticated, dark and earthy in its flavors and, I suspect, not to the taste of most honey lovers and certainly not to the taste of the neophyte. You love it or hate it. The second, from Madeira, is just the opposite: straightforward, inviting, warm — like Madeira itself and Portugal, too, for that matter.
The latest Prager Listener Cruise stopped in Lisbon, one of the reasons we choose the itinerary. Lots of Americans visit Europe, but most skip Portugal. Big mistake.

Susie and I wrangled an extra day in the capital city at the end of trip. What a thoroughly charming metropolis. Built on very steep hills (you can take an elevator from one neighborhood to another!), many of the buildings in the central city are still covered in colorful tile.

The country, as everyone now knows, is sinking under a mountain of social welfare debt. It remains to be seen how and if they are going to be dig themselves out of it. Everything is priced in Euros, so even though Lisbon retains a certain early twentieth century feel about it, the prices are thoroughly contemporary. Of course, everything in Europe is expensive. You might be able to retire at 50 or 55 (the thought actually depresses me), but can you afford to buy anything? Well, maybe you don’t need to. You can just sit in a cafe and work on an espresso for half a day.

Here’s where the Europeans have me, I must admit. With the exception of snorkeling, I enjoy nothing more than siting in a cafe, slowly sipping coffee, talking with friends, reading, surfing the Net or just people watching. Museums have their attraction, but cafes are where the action is. In Lisbon, they add a further inducement, an egg custard tart which is slightly burnt on the top like a creme bruele. You can find them everywhere in Lisbon and I pretty much did, but the mecca is a sprawling bakery, Pasteis de Belim. They serve 10,000 of these custard tarts a day. I could eat half of those myself.

Madeira, famous for its eponymous wine, defines charm. The major city, Funchal, like Lisbon, is built on steep hills. The houses are constructed on terraced ground, their orange tile roofs climbing into the hills like giant stairways. Winston Churchill loved the island. He often went there to paint. Paul Johnson in his superb, short biography of Churchill suggests that painting saved Churchill’s sanity. Getting away to Madeira, with its inspiring vistas, couldn’t have hurt, either.
And to complete the portrait, imagine this: the great man, taking a tea break, carefully spreading some delicious Madeira honey on a warm scone, staring out at the sea.

From left to right: A picture of Churchill painting Madeira, a view of Madeira, steep Lisbon, tiled Lisbon bldg., and famous Lisbon pastry shop.
churchillpaintng.jpg churchill painting picture by allen1844viewofmadeira2.jpg madeira view 2 picture by allen1844famousportugalbakery.jpg picture by allen1844famousportugalbakery.jpg picture by allen1844famousportugalbakery.jpg picture by allen1844


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