WESTON, Conn. -- If 15 years ago you had told Carla Marina Marchese of Weston that she would become a honey sommelier, author and sought-after honey expert, she would never have believed you.
Marchese, now the owner and creator behind Red Bee Honey, was first and foremost an artist. She graduated from The School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, had her illustrations featured in a variety of national magazines and traveled the world.
It wasn't until a visit to a neighbor's apiary in 2000 that she tasted fresh from the hive honey and got the bug to learn more. There really was no master plan at first, she said. "It just happened."
At the time, Marchese was renting a cottage on the property she owns now and started beekeeping in her spare time. "I had moved out of the city and needed something to do by myself in the country," she says.
And so she started reading, studying the craft, acquiring Italian bees and eventually making her own honey. What sets her product apart -- aside from being purely natural -- was adding her design sensibilities to the packaging.
"I put the honey in apothecary bottles," Marchese said of her humble beginnings. "The only problem: No one understood it back then. They only understood honey in a teddy bear jar."
Remember, she added, this was before the green movement and before farmers markets were popular.
But she was persistent and saw possibilities so she lugged her 12 bottles (the most she could make at the time) to the New Canaan farmers market, stores in Bridgeport where she grew up and knew well -- anywhere and everywhere -- until finally, slowly, people became enamored with the taste and flavor and her business grew.
Marchese describes the honeys like fine wines -- she studied wine tasting in order to transfer those skills to her honey production. Flavors range from bamboo to blueberry to clover and wildflower and are not to be poured in tea, per say, but to be used as finishing and pairing with cooking, i.e. for drizzling on muffins, adding to salads or serving with cheeses.
Today she has 15 seasonal single origin varieties as well as a host of honey-related products such as lip balm and body oil and hopes to expand beyond her red cottage (the origins of the Red Bee name) to spot where she can have more space and retail hours.
To learn more, check out her events at www.redbee.com/ . Coming up: Great Chefs/Greenwich Hospital fundraiser on March 6 and a honey tasting March 26 in New Canaan.
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