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With roots in a Brooklyn pizzeria, Northern New York honey becomes a "hot" commodity

Watertown Daily Times (NY)

March 03 --Honey produced in Jefferson County has become a "hot" commodity thanks to the creativity of a former gourmet pizza cook in Brooklyn who has found a hit with his condiment creation.

Mike's Hot Honey, which is infused with chili peppers, is being used in everything from cocktails to its original pairing, pizza.

Michael D. Kurtz ships his 12-ounce bottles of Mike's Hot Honey to retail stores and restaurants throughout the country. His business, and the honey he uses for it, gained awareness in January when it was featured on "CBS This Morning," which said the "food world is buzzing" over the product.

Mr. Kurtz's Hot Honey market will expand following an order placed late last year from Williams-Somona, which will make the product available at its stores this spring in the U.S., Canada and Australia .

"This is the first time it's going out on a larger scale internationally," Mr. Kurtz said.

His honey, he said, is produced by bees mostly in the Jefferson County area, with some produced in New Jersey .

The supplier of Mike's Hot Honey is Grant Stiles of Stiles Apiary in Fords, N.J.

Mr. Stiles is a migratory beekeeper, moving his bee colonies from one locality to another during a season.

Mr. Stiles said he starts out each year in North and South Carolina , where his bees pollinate crops. As the weather warms, he moves his bees to New Jersey for pollination chores there.

His bees arrive in Northern New York in May and stay until the fall. But while here, their jobs isn't to pollinate crops. It's to produce honey for customers like Mr. Kurtz .

"They are pollinating wild plants," Mr. Stiles said of his bees. "The honey is a by-product of that pollination."

Mr. Stiles said he runs about 4,000 colonies in Jefferson County . His extraction facility is in the town of Theresa . For Mike's Hot Honey, the raw material is extracted from hives here, but shipped to Mr. Stiles's facility in Fords, N.J. , where it is mixed with Mr. Kurtz's pepper mixture and bottled. The peppers are processed in Brooklyn and also brought to New Jersey .

Mr. Stiles said each year, his bees produce anywhere from 250 to 400 barrels of honey. Each barrel contains about 650 pounds of honey. So in an extremely good year, 260,000 pounds of honey could be produced.

One hive, Mr. Kurtz said, can produce up to 60 pounds of honey; about 5 gallons.

The honey that is produced here has a particular quality, said beekeeper Ted P. Elk of Hammond , who sold 450 of his hives to Mr. Stiles a few years ago.

" The St. Lawrence River Valley up through here produces some of the finest quality honey in the state," said Mr. Elk , who attributed the quality to the area's wildflowers and the soil from which they spring.

"You blend all of that together, it makes a fine, quality tasting honey," Mr. Elk said.

sweet on pizza

Mr. Kurtz , who declined to say how much raw material he purchases for his product and how many bottles he sells, said his love of pizza led to the invention of Mike's Hot Honey. He enjoys making pizza dough at home, but in 2010 he stopped by the newly opened Paulie Gee's on Greenpoint Avenue in Brooklyn . The restaurant features a wood-burning pizza oven built by Italian oven craftsman Stefano Ferrara . Paulie Gee's is rated one of the best pizza shops in the city.

Mr. Kurtz struck up a conversation with the shop's owner, Paulie Gianonne, who eventually hired Mr. Kurtz as an apprentice.

Mr. Kurtz first tasted spicy honey in 2003 while a college student in Brazil . He began making his own honey hot sauce at home and brought in some for Mr. Gianonne to try.

"He really liked it and asked if I could make enough for the restaurant," Mr. Kurtz said.

Small batches were made of the hot honey, which was drizzled over pizza.

"Occasionally, people would come up to me and ask for to-go containers of the honey," Mr. Kurtz said. "So I decided to bottle it and bring it to market."

He started Mike's Hot Honey in 2011. He reached out to Mr. Stiles as a supplier after seeing his company's name on the labels of honey products in supermarkets.

Mr. Kurtz ships it to restaurants from Lake Placid (Taste Bistro & Bar) to Oregon . It's also available in specialty shops dotted across the U.S. and online on his website, www.mikeshothoney.com for $10 per 12-oz. bottle.

"My favorite thing about what I'm doing is that I just make it and put it into the hands of people who are far more talented chefs than I am," Mr. Kurtz said.

His product isn't the only hot honey on the market. Brooklyn -based Bees Knees Spicy Honey is made with honey from the Hudson Valley . Florida -based Negley & Son produces Spicy Honey in its home state.

pros to amateurs

According to the latest statistics from the National Agricultural Statistics Service , released last year, the top five honey-producing states are North Dakota , Montana , South Dakota , Florida and California . New York state ranked 15th.

"If we wanted to rank honey production, New York over the years, quite often has not been in the top 10," said Mark W. Berninghausen , Brasher Falls , president of the Empire State Honey Producers Association, Inc.

Mr. Berninghausen said his organization doesn't track honey production numbers of its members. The organization has just over 200 registered members, he said.

But he said production of honey varies widely in Northern New York , from individual backyard hobbyists to professional operations such as Wakefield Apiaries in Deer River , Lewis County , which sells wholesale only in drums.

Wakefield Apiaries is one of two Northern New York businesses found on the National Honey Board's "honey locator" on its website. The other is Good Earth Honey, Watertown , which offers several sizes of honey containers and candles.

"In the anecdotal evidence, there appears to be a lot more beekeepers now than there were 10 years ago," Mr. Berninghausen said. "But the majority of hives reside in a small number of hands."

The state Department of Agriculture and Markets reported last summer that backyard beekeeping has exploded in recent years, with about 1,600 new beekeepers joining clubs in the past five years.

Scientists are working to make sure there are enough bees to make honey. Since 2006, beekeepers have struggled with colony collapse disorder. The source of the disorder remains unknown. But there is hope that it may be showing early sings of waning.

Mr. Berninghausen said that three years ago was the lowest honey-producing year for him since he started keeping bees in 1986.

"The 2013 crop was not much better, and the 2014 crop was a little better than the previous year," he said. "I hope the trend is for an ever better crop this year."

The USDA reported that nationwide, honey production in 2013 from producers with five or more colonies totaled 149 million pounds, up 5 percent from 2012. Wholesale prices, the USDA reported, hit a record high in 2013 at just over $2 per pound.

A study this summer

According to the American Honey Producers Association , one third of all agricultural output in the U.S. is dependent on pollination.

Mr. Stiles , Mr. Elk , Mr. Berninghausen and other local beekeepers will be part of a study this summer conducted by the Department of Entomology at Cornell University , Ithaca .

Thirty beekeepers in the state will be involved in the study, said Scott H. McArt , research scientist at the Department of Entomology at Cornell University .

Mr. McArt said that last year, 30 percent of hives in the state were lost. Since 2006, he said, the yearly average of hive losses has ranged from 20 percent to 40 percent.

The Cornell study this summer will look at the effects of pesticides and pathogens on honeybee production and is not directly related to colony collapse disorder.

"What we're trying to figure out is whether some of these environmental stresses such as pesticides are related to bee performance," said Mr. McArt .

The study, Mr. McArt said, will involve something not done before.?

"It's a very broad study with 120 hives we are placing out among 30 beekeepers throughout the state," he said. "But what makes it unique is that we are going to track performance of the bees on a monthly basis throughout the summer."

This, Mr. McArt said, will allow scientists in "real time" to track how things like pesticides and pathogens are related to bee performance and whether there are any links.

"To me, it's an obvious study that needs to be done," Mr. McArt said. "It just hasn't been done yet."

Mr. McArt said the study will have maximum control.

"We will be shipping hives that will be identical. The queens are from the same genetic source. All the hive material is from the same source."

"We're trying to start this experiment off with identical conditions and track what shows up in the hive and how that's related to performance," he said.


(c)2015 Watertown Daily Times (Watertown, N.Y.)

Visit Watertown Daily Times (Watertown, N.Y.) at www.watertowndailytimes.com

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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and may not reflect those of Kitco Metals Inc. The author has made every effort to ensure accuracy of information provided; however, neither Kitco Metals Inc. nor the author can guarantee such accuracy. This article is strictly for informational purposes only. It is not a solicitation to make any exchange in precious metal products, commodities, securities or other financial instruments. Kitco Metals Inc. and the author of this article do not accept culpability for losses and/ or damages arising from the use of this publication.
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