Bringing the Bee to Its Knees

Varietal honeys—also called single-source honeys—are made by bees that feed season by season at one main source of nectar, such as orange blossoms or eucalyptus flowers. Color, flavor, and even texture can vary greatly depending on the nectar, producing honeys that range in color from pale straw yellow to dark chocolate brown. Some are fresh and herbal; others tangy, flowery sweet, or even bitter.

Farmers’ markets are good places to start tasting local honeys. For imported or regional honeys, try specialty-foods stores or these online sources.

1. Chestnut. Caramel-colored French or Italian chestnut honey has a buttery, toasty flavor that makes it a traditional match for an after-dinner cheese course. Drizzle it over a ripe wedge of Gorgonzola with toasted walnuts and sliced red Bartlett pears. It’s also delicious over a mound of creamy fresh ricotta, topped with a few of the luscious candied chestnuts that the French call marrons glacés.

2. Lavender. Now you can find a domestic version of delectable French miel de lavande . Gentle floral lavender honey is a perfect sweetener for a steaming cup of tea, or you can make a memorable double-dose dessert by infusing the flowers in warm cream and churning up a batch of Double Lavender Ice Cream.

3. Tupelo. Produced in Georgia and northwest Florida from the nectar of the tupelo gum tree, this rich amber honey has a flowery scent and floral flavor. Mix tupelo honey with lime juice and a splash of orange liqueur as a glaze for grilled fresh pineapple, or try it in this enticing Mango and Rose Dessert Salad. The Savannah Bee Company offers an especially giftworthy version, packed in tall, elegantly slim bottles.

4. Eucalyptus. Towering, camphor-scented eucalyptus trees, native to Australia and now common in California, are among the first trees to flower during the last weeks of winter. Once the waxy little flowers appear, the bees shake off their winter torpor and start making this pale green–golden honey with herbal, grassy notes. From its apiary near the Napa Valley, Marshall’s Farm offers a particularly delectable eucalyptus honey that’s delicious in Hot Honey Lemonade, or in potent Blue Blazers.

5. Mesquite. Popular in the Southwest, this pungent, full-flavored honey makes a good addition to savory dishes, such as the spicy Big-Time Barbecue Sauce. It’s also good in marinades for grilled or roasted game birds such as duck, quail, and squab.

6. Buckwheat. Deep, dark, and intense, buckwheat honey has a brawny tang similar to that of molasses. It might be a little too strong for your morning toast, but pairing it with whole-wheat flour, buttermilk, and bran in these moist and healthy Buzzing Bran Muffins should make a full-flavored match for that first cup of java.

7. Basswood. Pale in color but punchy in flavor, this tangy, not-too-sweet honey is made during the basswood trees’ brief flowering season in early July. It’s hard to find but a great addition to these autumn-ready Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Ginger and Honey.

8. Corbezzolo. Bitter honey? The corbezzolo shrub (also known as the strawberry tree, thanks to its small, bright-red fruits) grows wild in Sardinia’s rocky soil, off the western coast of Italy. Bees that sip from its flowers produce a tan, cloudy honey with a pronounced bitter finish. Use in this decidedly grown-up dessert, the silky Saffron Panna Cotta with Bitter Honey.

9. Thyme. Greek bees have a plethora of wild thymes to feast on, and the result is this fragrant, herbaceous honey. Drizzle it over thick Greek-style yogurt, and pair with fresh or dried figs.

10. Orange blossom. This popular Florida honey has a sweet perfume and a pleasantly mild, citrus-floral flavor. If you’re a honey novice, this is the one to start with on your toast. Although it’s widely available, we like the minimally processed version from Bee Raw. Spread a spoonful over a halved ruby grapefruit, and run it under the broiler for a morning grapefruit brûlée. Or shake up a Bees’ Kiss Cocktail. You’ll barely feel the sting.