It’s not unusual to hear that a product or method of production was discovered by chance. So when Kris Sweres from Blend Smoked Honey tells me that “The concept of Blend came about completely by accident” I’m not surprised, but naturally I’m intrigued. When he goes on to mention that post-holiday “drunken tomfoolery” was involved, I’m all ears.
Kris’ partner, Rebecca bought a Hunter valley trip for Kris 40th last year. And so they went… “I just became this wine dude. I don’t normally drink a lot of wine. While we were down there we visited this winery that had a smokehouse attached to it… we tried this smoked cheddar”. They were pretty impressed. Coming back from the Hunter Valley trip Kris decided he was going to recreate that smoked cheddar.
So he fired up the cold smoker at home, came back after about an hour, lifted the lid and found a jar of honey in there. And my question to Kris is obviously, “how is there a jar of honey in there?”. “Well, exactly”, he says… A few beers had been consumed, he can’t exactly confirm what he was doing with the honey, but at some point he inadvertently placed it in the smoker. So, naturally, they tried the honey with the cheddar and found it was amazing.
And so it began… for six months he mucked around with flavour profiles, different techniques, different smoking woods and spices etc. and came up with a standard recipe. And that is how, in late November 2014, Blend Smoked Honey was born.
At first Kris thought his mum would be the only person who would buy his honey. But quickly people embraced the sweet, smoky stuff. Kris attributes the power of social media as one factor in Blend’s steady growth over such a short period of time, and if you’ve ever taken a peek at their Instagram account, you might see why. Beautiful photographs and boundless enthusiasm. But I think there’s more to it than that. For us at Plenty (we stocked Blend on our retail shelves shortly after they launched) it was about a quality product, something quite unique from a producer whose devotion shines through in the way he markets and distributes his own product. Producers taking care of their own distribution is something, as a food retailer, we love to see. It allows direct contact with the craftspeople and there is no better way to market a product than that. Kris says there’s “such a feeling of happiness when someone gets your product”. And you can see he means every word of it.
It seems a simple and beautiful concept, but occasionally we are still asked at the cafe, “what is smoked honey”… well, it’s “Raw local honey, gently smoked and blended with artisan ingredients. Handmade in Queensland using small batch pure honey. Sweet, smokey, unique”.
Kris gets the raw honey from different places and different beekeepers. This is what gives each batch a different character. The last batch was clear and nutty, suggesting perhaps a nut orchard nearby. The batch before was like maple syrup in texture and flavour. He is currently using Farmgate Honey, from Murray, another good friend of Plenty.
Honey is such a beautiful product and you get the feeling that while Kris didn’t set out to work with it specifically, he has certainly developed a great affection for it as a result of Blend. He explains that it doesn’t need refrigeration and has an unlimited expiration. The only thing that can spoil honey is moisture. Although as Kris says “add water you get mead!” (an alcoholic beverage made from fermented honey and water) so arguably, the honey isn’t spoiled!
One thing Kris really delights in is the first hand interaction with the beekeepers. He says “meeting beekeepers is fun, getting out of Brisbane, to places like Woodford, Esk and Pomona.” They are a different breed of people, a little crazy, some might say! Their concern for the bees and the ecology is the driving force, honey is a by-product of the process. “The most important thing to them is the bees”.
Blend are still a small batch operation, producing about 40-60kg jars per run. They do this at Wandering Cooks, in South Brisbane, which Kris describes as “such a supportive and professional environment”.
We talk for a long time after this about the joys of collaboration, of how rewarding it is to align with likeminded business. We share an enthusiasm for the new wave of food business mentality; operators and producers working together sharing stories and helping each other navigate through the landscape.
Kris talks fondly of how Mikey from Picklehead Pickles lent invaluable support with some of the logistics of setting up the business. The boys have since formed a competitive BBQ team named Shank Brothers BBQ (“there’s a league of competitive BBQ enthusiasts?” I ask, “it’s a thing” Kris replies). The BBQ community have really helped propel the concept and the product.
A beautiful example of this is a recent get together at Meat At Billy’s where Kris was able to slather his smoky honey all over one of Tim (Eggcettera) Somes’ suckling pigs… I can’t help but wish we’d been there.
I ask Kris is he was still chefing when he started Blend… “I still am” he replies. It is early days and he’s still growing the business, but not to the point of compromising anything. One day, maybe, he can give up the day job and chase his dreams of extending the range or getting in to primary production.
The other question we get asked a lot at Plenty is “how do we use smoked honey?” Kris says “on grilled meats and cheese. A really sharp, aged cheddar, haloumi, blue cheese, brie… all cheeses. Grilled pineapple and triple cream brie. Root vegetables, roast baby carrots and beetroot. All the BBQ stuff… pork ribs. Boerewors. Lamb. As an adhesive for your rub. Put it on before, rub goes down, then it sticks! And then finish as well. Pork and Blend are besties. Fish… salmon, glazed ocean trout BBQ’d on cedar planks. On a nice thick cut piece of bacon. Crispy bacon waffles.”
I could listen to this all day…
You can find Blend Smoked Honey in and around Brisbane at stockists such as Plenty West End, The Jam Pantry, Petersons Meats, Meat at Billy’s. And Blend is starting to appear on shelves in Victoria and NSW as well!
Recipe – care of Blend Smoked Honey
Blend Smoked Honey and Orange Xmas Ham Glaze
1 Quality leg ham
2 tbsp ‘Pommery’ Dijon mustard
4 tbsp Blend Smoked Honey
½ cup apple juice
1 cup orange juice
2 tbsp quality orange marmalade
1 rosemary sprig, torn
1 tbsp crushed whole cloves
2 tbsp cracked white pepper
1 tsp ground cinnamon
Preheat oven to 160˚C. Meanwhile carefully remove the outer skin layer of ham leaving the white layer of fat underneath. Remember the ham is already cooked/smoked so you’re just glazing it to add an extra depth of flavour.
In the fat layer score a criss-cross pattern and rub in the mustard, marmalade and rosemary. Mix the other ingredients in a small bowl and gently spoon over the ham before popping in to the oven.
Cook for approximately 50-60 mins whilst basting the ham every 10 mins with the glaze and juices in the bottom of the pan. If the glaze is getting too ‘sticky’ (which happens when the moisture is evaporated) just add a touch of water to thin it out very slightly. In the last 5 minutes of cooking baste one last time and give the ham a quick blast at 190-200˚C.
Keep an eye on it as it can burn quickly at this stage. The gentle smoky flavour of the honey, offset with mustard and the other ingredients add a sublime level to the humble xmas baked ham. Sweet, sticky and dead easy! Enjoy!!