Honey trader, and trained chef Shamus Ogilvy is a man with a mission, and that mission is to give the way we eat honey an extra dimension of enjoyment in much the same way as coffee and chocolate pioneers have elevated their fare in terms of quality and choice. It’s been a personal story of dedication and endeavour: he risked his last £600, travelled the globe, and experienced many discomforts in his quest to bring rare and wildcrafted honeys to these shores.
In common with the foodanistas who introduced us to 100% Arabica, dark 70% chocolate made from organic cocoa beans, exotic soups and smoothies, Shamus Ogilvy has the expert knowledge and the passion to inspire us to experience an everyday food in a different and better way. He’s confident that we will soon want to know our monoflorals from our polyflorals and that we will share his excitement share his excitement in discovering new honeys, whether from the tropical rainforest up the Zambezi River valley (polyfloral and slightly spicy with a distinctive redcurrant flavour, in case you were wondering), or the Tawari tree in New Zealand (monofloral with a buttery, orange blossom taste).
We eat 25,000 tonnes of honey in the UK each year* and around 80% of it is blended because most commercially available honey is a mixture of two or more honeys differing in floral source, colour, flavour, density or even country of origin. Until Shamus started the Ogilvy’s Honey brand this summer, fine, single source and rare honeys have not been available on a national scale in the UK, partly due to problems of traceability, year round supply, reliable distribution and organic certification. Shamus has worked hard to crack all of these difficulties and his persistence has paid off.
Shamus has made his love of good food his driving passion in life; he has even based Ogilvy’s Honey at an old bakery in Northamptonshire. While at school in Scotland, slipping into the girls only home economics classes, he also spent holidays with his grandmother where his passion for food really took off – ‘I loved seeing things grow in my grandmother’s kitchen garden and loved experimenting on the ancient Aga she had – when she would let me!’ He then trained as chef at Leiths School of Food & Wine and was the first man to be accepted at what was then an all girls’ college. He still cooks regularly and has connections with many leading chefs and food writers.
Shamus’s voyage of discovery with honey began when he found an interesting honey producer in India. He spent his last £600 flying to a remote part of country only to find no-one to meet him at the airport and no money left to pay for a taxi. He rang the company to find that nobody knew he was coming, or had heard of him. The story had a happy ending – he was put through on the phone to the company’s managing director, because he shared the same surname as the marketing director, with whom Shamus had been in correspondence about sole UK agency for the Indian honey, and who, it transpired, had left the company suddenly. The MD gave Shamus the agency rights because, although he’d had many discussions with other individuals, none of them had made the effort to fly out to India.
Today, Shamus is a successful honey trader with an established network of beekeepers in remote parts of the world. His tenacity, integrity and efforts – not least his willingness to put up with considerable personal discomfort during his travels to primitive areas – have led him to be given access to honeys from areas considered too remote by others. This month, he’s launching Ogilvy’s Honey – a collection of eight artisan honeys sourced from his beekeepers that is available nationwide.
Ogilvy’s Honey will offer single flower nectar (monofloral) varieties as well as polyflorals where the bees visit different flowering plants in one local area. These give the honeys distinctive characteristics and flavour intensities ranging from mild to strong.
The labels read like those on good bottles of wine giving details of the individual flavour notes of each honey, their provenance and geographical origin. The varieties include three from New Zealand including a dark honey to rival Manuka in flavour, black locust flower and linden blossom from the Balkans, a delicate honey from an Argentinean river delta, forest honey from the Himalayas, and wildcrafted tropical blossom honey from the Zambezi River. Three are certified organic by the Soil Association.
“Until now the main problems around high quality, non-blended honey have been traceability, year round supply, reliable distribution and organic certification all of which I have solved by having direct relationships with beekeepers. We can track from bee to jar plus we can guarantee supply. We have a proven distribution set up, and Soil Association approval for our organic honeys”, Shamus explained.
Shamus has further designs on our honey eating habits with new varieties planned for later in the year but meanwhile his enthusiasm for honey is infectious – his branding consultant has become so interested that she in the process of setting up her own bee hives in Somerset. No doubt she’ll soon be blogging about her progress with this summer’s honey harvest.
*British Beekeepers Association presentation to Associate Parliamentary Food & Health Forum 2008.
Xa Trading Limited
Shamus Ogilvy Managing Director
Tel: 0131 467 7443