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Honey night chance to enjoy unique flavour of tawari

From a remote location north of Gisborne, at an altitude of about 2000 feet, beekeepers Brian Gibson and Barry Foster collect the golden elixir known as tawari honey.

Like other uniquely-flavoured varietal honeys such as rewarewa, pohutukawa and kamahi, tawari is hard to find but much appreciated when available, says Mr Gibson.

On Wednesday night, tawari will not only be much easier to find but also to sample through a variety of dishes at a honey evening at the Marina Restaurant.

Spinach pasta with goat cheese and tawari or manuka honey will be the starter followed by a main of pork fillet with pumpkin and honey.

A dessert of caramelised apricot with tawari honeycomb rounds off the three-course dinner.

“Honey isn't just honey,” says Mr Foster. “People generally don't know about the wonderful flavours and qualities of different honeys in a range of cuisine.

“There's not enough out there to promote our multi-floral varieties and non-manuka honeys.

“The New Zealand wine industry now has great brands and a great story. We need to do the same with honey.”

While Mr Gibson and Mr Foster develop a plan to promote local varietal honeys, they are particularly keen to make tawari honey more accessible.

“Barry's been collecting tawari honey from the Rakauroa/Matawai/Motu area for about 40 years, as did his father before him,” says Mr Gibson.

Mr Foster's father John specialised in tawari honey and owned the Tawari Apiaries factory in Tupaia Steet. Barry took over the business in 1980, developed it and sold it in 2018 to Gisborne business Pauariki Honey.

Barry still harvests tawari from the same location as his father.

Mr Gibson has harvested tawari on a smaller scale for about 35 years.

Tawari is a small, high country native tree that grows only above 1500 feet in altitude from Northland south to about Lake Waikaremoana.

These days it's hard to find any growing below about 2000 feet, says Mr Gibson.

“It flowers heavily in spring for about a month from mid-November, producing light-coloured nectar, the honey from which has a delicate and distinctive taste.

“We target this honey by placing our hives in the area just at the start of flowering, and harvest the honey as soon as flowering is over. This minimises ‘contamination' with other nectar sources such as clover, which we don't want.

“We're purists, and a bit fanatical.”

Eclipsed by interest in manuka honey, other varieties attract low prices — if producers of non-manuka and multi-floral honeys are even able to find a buyer.

“It's our opinion, which most beekeepers share, that the marketing of New Zealand varietal honeys has been poor,” says Mr Gibson. “There are exceptions, such as manuka honey, but most honey in this country is marketed as a cheap commodity and often as a blend.

“For various complicated reasons, the price of non-manuka honey has crashed.

It's generally accepted that around $6 a kilogram is the break-even point for beekeepers. My last offer for my tawari honey last year was $4. So, although Tawari honey is held in high esteem by those who get to taste it, unless the beekeeper sells directly, it's not worth producing.

“Barry and I are trying to change this.”

The Honey Night is at the Marina Restaurant on Wednesday from 6pm. The three-course meal is $65 and bookings can be made at marinarestaurant.co.nz, or phone 868 5919.