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Posted by portugalpress on August 24, 2017
Photo: Bruno Filipe Pires/Open Media Group
José Carlos Mestre from Apisland / Photo: Sara Alves/Open Media Group
Monchique honey producers, father and son team, José Nunes Joaquim and João Joaquim / Photo: Sara Alves/Open Media Group

The southernmost region is one of the biggest honey-producers in Portugal and it seems like the sector wants to keep growing. There are more than 10,000 beekeepers (or apiarists) nationwide, and in the last three years alone, the average number of hives per beekeeper has almost doubled, according to data from the Portuguese Beekeepers National Federation (FNAP). Honey production has been growing sustainably since 2007.

In the Monchique council, 26-year-old João Joaquim is one of the youngest beekeepers. He grew up watching his father, 61-year-old José Nunes Joaquim, tending the bees as a way of life, and it was with him that he learned everything he knows. Together, they manage 60 apiaries with more than 15,000 hives. They own a primary production unit, meaning that they are limited to producing 650kg of honey per year.

At Melaria Pé da Cruz, the brand they registered just one year ago, they produce French lavender, medronho and sunflower honey.

Every day, father and son go out and check on the apiaries that are spread between the Algarve and the Alentejo. “We manage the hives until June so that we can start removing the honey the month after. It all depends on the weather, which can condition the removal of the honey either earlier or later.” The first honey of the year is then bottled and sold in bulk or in jars from September.

The specialist Loja do Mel e do Medronho shop in the centre of Monchique purchases a significant part of the production from this family business. The store opened in 2011, thanks to the joint efforts of the regional producers’ associations, with the support of the local council.

The shop represents 28 producers of medronho firewater and three apiarists, and offers tastings of the various types of honey.

According to manager Liliana Martins, the shop helps small producers legalise and sell their products. “Otherwise it would be very difficult for them to do so. When people come to Monchique, they know that here they can find the best and most authentic mountain produce,” she says. Medronho honey, which is strong and bitter, is one of the latest products available in-store and one that has most sparked the curiosity of its visitors.

Aljezur, on the Vincentine Coast, is home to the biggest national exporter of honey in bulk. José Carlos Mestre is the director of Apisland and a firm believer that “Portuguese honey is the best in the world”.

Apisland was founded in 2006, the year it began exporting to other European countries, and quickly became the market leader in Portugal.

In 2015, the 40-year-old businessman also created the brand Méis de Portugal, increasing the range by selling honey in jars. Three of them have already been distinguished at the National Honey Competition, organised by FNAP, with honourable mentions in the categories of Chestnut, Medronho and Orange, among more than 40 competitors from across the country.

In total, Apisland has 14 varieties of honey on the market, which come from all around the country. They vary in colour, smell and flavour, according to the type of flora from which they are obtained. The most characteristic from the Algarve are French lavender, medronho, carob and orange, while other areas of Portugal provide honey of eucalyptus, wild flowers, forest, sunflower, mountain, thyme, clover, heather, rosemary and spring flowers.

José Mestre explains that Apisland acquires honey from around 500 beekeepers nationwide and then exports it all to countries such as Spain, France and also Germany, which, according to the businessman, is the country that consumes most honey in the world – “around 1kg per capita”.

The goal is to promote quality Portuguese honey abroad, while at the same time help beekeepers sell their produce. “We don’t always have enough in quantity to respond to all the demands of the European markets,” he admits. The 1,000 or so tonnes sold annually generate an average turnover of €3-€4 million. For that, José Mestre makes a point of continuing to promote the incomparable quality of Algarvean honey at the leading international food fairs.

There is a quote often attributed to Albert Einstein that says: “If the bee disappeared off the face of the Earth, man would only have four years left to live. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.”
In the Algarve, the bee guardians are doing their bit and are striving to keep their high-quality standards untouched, which allow the honey to still be enjoyed in its purest state, and always in perfect harmony with nature.

By SARA ALVES sara.alves@open-media.net

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