In a land where Pinot Noir, not Primates is the order of the day, most people who aren’t familiar with Sonoma County and its boundless offerings are stunned when I share that there’s more than grapes flourishing in our golden hills. Like giraffes, rhinos, buffalos, zebras, exotic birds and cheetahs. Yes, all of these animals are living- and thriving- in this region’s best-kept secret: Safari West. Continue reading
Sunshine and palm trees- what could be better! A few weeks ago, I made a bit of an impromptu trip down to Palm Springs. It had been raining here in Sonoma County for days and days….and days, so I decided to shake the wet weather, get out of dodge and find some sun pronto! I grabbed my good friend Miss LJ, loaded up the car and off we went! Continue reading
Here’s the final post- a sweet ending if you will- on my recent (and wonderful) trip to the Hawaiian Islands. I did some research before leaving California (the die-hard foodie I am! ) for unique culinary producers I could check out whilst I was on the Big Island. Figured there had to be a few farms in this tropical paradise that offered tours or tastings. So I scoured tons of websites and lots of travel blogs and found articles like this one and this one which pointed me in the direction of these two amazing food artisans: Rare Hawaiian Honey Company and Hawaiian Vanilla Company. We combined both visits on the same day as they’re within a 30-minute drive of each other. This made for a fun, full-day outing and a great self-guided culinary excursion up the coastline from Kona towards Waimea. I didn’t take any photos on the drive up (dang it!) but trust me when I tell you the views were spectacular!
Rare Hawaiian Honey Company
Trading an avocado farm in Southern California for honey hives in an isolated forest on the dry side of the Big Island, owners Michael and Amy Domeier couldn’t be happier with their move to Hawai’i. Having previously spent short periods of time on the island, they both knew this location was special. Once they made their permanent move, they added the title of Beekeeper to their business card– and haven’t looked back since. The company was originally founded in 1981 (under different ownership) and Michael & Amy purchased it from them three years ago. Over the decades, the honey has developed a true cult following (add me to the list!) and has garnered well-deserved kudos from the specialty food scene by receiving the finalist award for Outstanding New Product from NASFT. What makes this raw and Certified Organic honey so unique is the stunning pearly-white color. There’s nothing else like it in the world. The bees feed on over 1,000 acres of rare Kiawe trees (pronounced “kee ah’ vay” in Hawaiian), a species of mesquite native to Ecuador and Peru. It produces a clear honey, which after only a few days, crystallizes into its signature white color with an unbelievably creamy texture. Its fragrance is laced with delicate tropical and floral notes….unlike anything I’ve ever tasted. Wonderful!
They have several types of honey, depending on the season, and what’s flowering. In the winter, the 400 hives are moved closer to wildflowers in bloom near a large macadamia nut farm along the coast or upcountry in an area called Honokaa. The Great White is one of their limited bottlings as this monofloral honey is only ‘pulled’ (removed from hive) at certain times of the year. Bet you can guess which one was my favorite. Ah, too easy huh! The Calamansi took a close second though. I’ve never tasted a Calamansi before–it’s a cross between a mandarin orange and a kumquat, grows mainly in the Philipines and Malaysia. Warning: it’s a very tart fruit on its own, but when its juice is added to the honey, the mixture reminded me of a beautiful lemon-lime curd. Each honey is so distinct in its consistency and taste profile. Was great fun sampling through them all with Amy herself (thank you again Amy!). You can purchase any of the honeys shown through their on-line shop, or better yet– if you’re going to be visiting the Big Island, book-in for a tasting at their shop in Kamuela/Waimea. You’ll be in for a treat!
Rare Hawaiian Honey Company
66-1250 Lalamilo Farm Road, Kamuela, HI 96743
Phone: 888 663-6639 | firstname.lastname@example.org
Tasting by appointment
Hawaiian Vanilla Company
Like many of you bakers, I use vanilla extract all the time. I know there are certain brands that are supposed to better than others, but I’ve never taken the time to actually learn why that it is or how vanilla extract is even made. But after our visit with the Hawaiian Vanilla Company, I now have all those answers and an even far greater appreciation for how this perfumed spice is grown.
The trip up to the Reddekopp family’s vanilla farm feels like a true culinary mission….CIA-style in fact. Although they’re widely publicized throughout the area on brochures and tour sites, getting there is a different story. There’s only one small road sign off the main highway leading you to the turn-off (which I swear we passed at least 2-3 times), and then a long, winding road which climbs up over the cloud line to about 1,500 feet above sea level– leading deeper and deeper into the dense tropical forest. What felt like a secret journey up the mountain made our arrival all that more satisfying. Like we were ancient explorers on our own spice expedition! Everything is low-profile here—probably because there are other family homes near-by AND when you consider vanilla is the second most expensive spice (next to Saffron) selling for upwards of $1200 a pound….well, you’d be keeping all this under wraps too.
Upon arrival for our pre-booked tour, we were warmly greeted by owner Jim Reddekopp and his family (who also work at the farm) and served a refreshing and killer vanilla lemonade. Seriously, best lemonade E.V.E.R. ! Jim gave the group a tour of the greenhouses to see the vanilla orchids. Yes, the vanilla bean is actually a pod from a flowering plant in the orchid family. These precious orchids will only grow in a band 20 miles either side of the equator. The regions we’re most familiar with are Madagascar and Mexico, but now, the Hawaiian Vanilla Company is the first grower here in the U.S to successfully cultivate vanilla. The farm uses a proprietary mix of soil to grow the plants in and they’ve developed their own system for trellising and water-drainage as well. Jim calls the setup his “vanilla canoes”. When it comes time for the plants to reproduce, each one is pollinated by hand to ensure the fertilization happens at just the right location on the plant. This is an extremely meticulous process as you can imagine, and there’s only about a 24 to 48-hour window in which to do it in. After flowering, the pod develops & ripens gradually over the next 8 to 9 months. Eventually, it will turn black and give off the unmistakeable vanillan-aroma. Each pod contains thousands of tiny seeds, and both the pods and seeds within are used to create vanilla flavoring.
During our tour, Jim shared with us his most prized gift from a vanilla farm down in Mexico. This sculpture is meant to replicate an Inca temple—it’s completely made from vanilla beans! It was really heavy for its size strangely enough, and the aroma….simply divine! Back at the main shop, we feasted on their homemade vanilla bean ice cream topped with a special liliko’i curd. Then we shopped away for all-things vanilla. I’ll definitely be back for another visit, as they also offer a “vanilla lunch” too.
Hawaiian Vanilla Company
43-2007 Paauilo Mauka Rd. | Paauilo, Hawaii, 96776
Book tours and tastings here. There are several options to choose from including a full lunch to a farm walk. For questions, (808) 776-1771
All and all, this was a happily jam-packed day full of information, sights and incredible tastes. What a blast! I highly recommend taking the time on your next vacation to scout out some local culinary producers near your destination. It will help you get a deeper sense and appreciation of where our global cuisines come from, as well as strengthen the mutual bonds of food-love we all share.
*not a sponsored post, just sharing the stories of some awesome families who simply love what they do :>)