Honey & Vanilla – Aloha Style

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 | range of honeys | whiskandmuddler.com

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!
calamansi honey | rare hawaiian honey co. | whiskandmuddler.com
calamansi honey | rare hawaiian honey co. | whiskandmuddler.com

beehive from Rare Hawaiian Honey Company
rare hawaiian honey company |whiskandmuddler.com
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!

To visit:
Rare Hawaiian Honey Company
66-1250 Lalamilo Farm Road, Kamuela, HI 96743
Phone:  888 663-6639 |  info@rarehawaiianhoney.com
Tasting by appointment

Hawaiian Vanilla Company | whiskandmuddler.com

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.
sign in shop at Hawaiian Vanilla Company | whiskandmuddler.com

Jim Reddekopp | Owner Hawaiian Vanilla Company

Jim Reddekopp | Owner Hawaiian Vanilla Company

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.
vanilla orchid greenhouse | Hawaiian Vanilla Co. | whiskandmuddler.com
vanilla orchids at Hawaiian Vanilla Co. | whiskandmuddler.com

vanilla orchid | hawaiian vanilla co. | whiskandmuddler.com

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.
vanilla bean sculpture |whiskandmuddler.com
vanilla extract| hawaiian vanilla company | whiskandmuddler.com
all things vanilla | hawaiian vanilla co. | whiskandmuddler.com
vanilla extract | hawaiian vanilla co. | whiskandmuddler.com

vanilla extract | hawaiian vanilla co. | whiskandmuddler.com

liliko'i dressing | hawaiian vanilla co. | whiskandmuddler.com

To visit:
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  :>)

The Big Island: A Week In Kona

Aloha! Wait, can I still say that after being back for nearly a week?
palm trees | hilton waikoloa | whiskandmuddler.com
Sure, why not? Because my mind and spirit still feel like they’re relaxing on a soft, sandy beach somewhere on the beautiful island of Hawai’i- The Big Island–and specifically in Kona. These palm trees are my new screen saver.  They remind me to breathe….and let the breezes of life pass through me.

This post is not only a visual travel log of my recent trip, but also a way of introducing a new feature of the site: a dedicated Travel page. Here you’ll find links to posts focused on travel destinations, whether near or far, cold or sunny, beaches or backpacks…..but always guaranteed somewhere worth exploring. These posts will be a bit longer than usual as they’re mainly photos.  Scroll and escape with me to parts unknown. Never fear, I’ll always tie-in food and drinks somehow.  Whether it be meals I’ve enjoyed, interesting culinary finds, or simple strolls through a local farmer’s market, like in this post. Maybe I’ll include a quick cocktail recipe too?  My eats & drinks bag is always packed and ready…. so, off we go!

sitting buddha | hilton waikoloa | whiskandmuddler.com

sitting buddha | hilton waikoloa

real dolphin | hilton waikoloa | whiskandmuddler.com

real dolphin | hilton waikoloa

dolphin statue | hilton waikoloa | whiskandmuddler.com

not real dolphin | hilton waikoloa

behind a waterfall | hilton waikoloa | whiskandmuddler.com

behind a waterfall | hilton waikoloa

hilton waikoloa | Big Island | whiskandmuddler.com

hilton waikoloa | big island

Spending a week in Hawai’i is always a special trip, but this visit in particular was even more memorable as we celebrated my parents 50th wedding anniversary. Yes, 50 years, can you believe it? What an accomplishment. Congrats Mom and Dad! Something we can all aspire to. We had family from WA State, Oregon, Tennessee, California and England join us in Kona to mark this momentous occasion. Lots of sun, surf, snorkeling and fancy drinks with little umbrellas!

DSC_0053-1papayas | big island | whiskandmuddler.com

papayas | big island


bananas | big island | whiskandmuddler.com

Had such a fun time at the Kona Farmer’s Market. It’s open Wed- Sunday 7am- 4pm and is in the center of Kona- you can’t miss it. They offer local artisan crafts, jewelry & apparel, flowers, ukuleles (in case you forgot to pack yours) and of course, lots of tasty tropical fruits and veggies. A foodie’s paradise! Got some great shots; even a Day Gecko!
mango | kona farmer's market | whiskandmuddler.com

guava | kona farmer's market | whiskandmuddler.com

guava | kona farmer’s market


lychee | kona farmer's market | whiskandmuddler.com

lychee | kona farmer’s market

rainbow papayas | kona farmer's market | whiskandmuddler.com

rainbow papayas | kona farmer’s market


green mango | kona farmer's market | whiskandmuddler.com

green mango – I think? | kona farmer’s market

"apple bananas" which the locals call "cooking bananas" | kona farmer's market | whiskandmuddler.com

“apple bananas” on top shelf which the locals call “cooking bananas” | kona farmer’s market

rambutan | kona farmer's market | whiskandmuddler.com

rambutan | kona farmer’s market

dragon fruit | kona farmer's market | whiskandmuddler.com

dragon fruit | kona farmer’s market

dragon fruit | kona farmer's market | whiskandmuddler.com
tropical fruit at kona farmer's market | big island | whiskandmuddler.com

gecho and melons

anthurium | kona farmer's market |whiskandmuddler.com

anthurium | kona farmer’s market


tropical protea | kona farmer's market | whiskandmuddler.com

tropical protea

I have no idea what this is, but it’s gorgeous!

On the day we visited the Volcano, we stopped at Ailani Orchards on the way back to Kona. Got to try fresh….and I mean *fresh* macadamia nuts…. right out of the shell. The farm is owned by Barney & Elizabeth Frazier who were so nice to us. Barney cracked opened several macadamia nuts with his nifty nutcracker. He explained how macadamias are grown and processed. They don’t bake theirs like most farms do. Instead, they slowly dehydrate their nuts over a 4-5 day period at low temps, thereby retaining the creaminess and the nut’s inherent oils. Amazing. The BEST macs you’ve ever eaten. We also tried their coffee…..so good! Oh, and up the road a ways….we saw these guys.

alilani Orchard | big island | whiskandmuddler.com

macadamia nuts | whiskandmuddler.com
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Exploring the Kilauea Volcano and the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park was so neat. This was as close as we could get, due to the toxic gases that were emitting from the caldera. But still, what a sight to behold. I hear it’s even better viewing at night….next trip! And look at the gorgeous flowers & ferns we found at the overlook spot. That day we also did a quick detour over to Punalu’u Beach or Black Sands Beach. Boy, was that sand hot!
kilauea volcanoDSC_0066-1 kilauea vocano | big island | whiskandmuddler.com
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click to enlarge to find out what plaque above means ;>)

We had lots of other adventures including visiting a rare honey producer in Kumuela (near Waimea) and a vanilla bean farm in Paauilo. Those stories coming in future posts. But back in Kona: fishing, surf-watching, dolphins, beer, more drinks, and gorgeous sunsets. Mahalo for reading!
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sunset 7.10.15-1

DSC_0073-1-2first night sunset






#picturebygrace. kona sunset first night. no filters.

p.s. this is not a sponsored post–just me giving a special shout-out and big mahalo to Gerrit and the folks at www.lovebigisland.com for their awesome website and personal recommendations to me for this trip. Their site is so comprehensive and made planning our activities so easy. Can’t recommend them enough!