On the Line: Ryan Smith of Massey Honey, Part One
My interview with Massey Honey's Ryan Smith was a little backwards, as he spent the first part of our meeting interviewing me. When you consider the number of questions I asked him, it was only fair. I used the jar of orange blossom honey he brought to sweeten my oatmeal, and all was good in the world.
How did Massey Honey get started?
I have always been drawn to bees and honey. While I was in college, I attended a field trip to the beehives with an entomology class I had snuck into and became fascinated with the complexities of these insects. When I had finished school, I purchased a beehive as a hobby and it grew from there. I began to rescue feral hives which would otherwise be exterminated by the county or city, and relocated them to safe locations to help with the declining bee population. We now manage close to 100 hives throughout Orange County.
Do you have a favorite pairing?
Wildflower or orange blossom honey with Pecorino Romano cheese.
What can we pair the different flavors with? Anything we wouldn't expect?
In tasting different honey, I find what most people draw a distinction with is the level of sweetness-- and varieties of honey carry with them varying levels of sweetness. A very sweet honey such as orange blossom pairs well with a salty base such as Parmesan cheese. On the flip side, a bittersweet honey such as almond blossom pairs great with a base, such as a fig.
Where was your most recent meal?
I had chicken sausages, which I barbequed for my niece and nephew (two and four years old). No honey was involved, although it was requested.
Favorite meal growing up:
I loved stuffed shells-- a sort of Italian comfort food my mother would make.
Where can we find Massey locally (in addition to farmers' markets)? Any recent additions?
Massey Honey can be found at select gourmet shops and markets throughout California. Our newest OC retailers include Monarch Beach Market (Dana Point), Center Street Cheese Shop (Anaheim), and Rodgers Gardens (Newport Beach). Customers can check our website for a complete list.
Favorite farmers' market.
Downtown Santa Ana. Run by knowledgeable people who are striving to help revitalize DTSA. It also helps to have a great mix of agricultural and specialty products, many of which are produced sustainably.
Favorite products by other vendors.
Pickled goods by Pernicious Pickling Co, savory sweets by Taart Pan, cold brew coffee by Outpost Coffee and almond milk from Almond Kulture.
Where does the Massey name come from?
Massey is a family name, and we are a family-run business. We are related to the same Masseys who started the gourmet vanilla company, Nielsen-Massey (my Great Grandfather).
Most popular uses for honey?
Tea, hors d'oeuvres, coffee, baking, face masks and for medicinal purposes.
Culinary speaking, Orange County has the best:
Up and coming culinary scene. OC has been overshadowed by LA (arguably the best food and restaurants in the country) for so long. We now have a burgeoning culinary scene developing in various areas-- Downtown Santa Ana, for example!
Where do you source your honey from?
75% of our honey comes from Orange County. We source some of the varieties of honey from other parts of California we have moved the hives to for pollination. For example, Central California for almond honey, Temecula regions for orange blossom and Fallbrook for avocados.
How do you flavor your honey?
We don't, the bees do it for us! Some honey is infused with properties to help fabricate a taste or variety. Rather than infusing our honey, we let the bees pollinate a specific crop when it is blooming (i.e. orange trees in March and April, almond trees in February), and later extract the honey. This is good for the crop as well as the bees, and completely natural!
What are the challenges to producing honey?
The health of the bees. Honey production is completely dependent on the health of our colonies and the environment surrounding them. As polarized by the media, bee populations have been decreasing-- a growing concern to the agriculture industry. With a loss of bees, we not only have a loss of honey, but a significant drop in one-third of our agricultural products.
Your earliest food memory:
My grandmother, who is originally from Nicaragua, would drive to downtown LA and pick up loads of nacatamales for our family. These are similar to Mexican tamales, but slightly larger, steamed in banana leaves and super tasty! They are primarily found throughout Nicaragua and Honduras.
One food your can't live without.
Honey. It's nature's natural sweetener.