2010 Utah State Fair – Honey Competition
Review of Honey Competition
I thought I would share my experience with the 2010 Utah State Fair and my home-grown honey entries!!
On September 6th, I had an idea while at work, as I was thinking about the Utah State fair. My brother submitted some produce a few years back and was awarded a ribbon for the largest sunflower. In Canada, where I am from, I have never known that type of personal participation. I wondered if there was a classification for honey entries? On the 7th, I sent an email to the fair, but as I was on pins and needles, I decided to call and speak directly to the organizers. I was told there was a group for honey and was to look on the web-site at http://www.utahstatefair.com. Under Exhibitors and Competition, there is a link for the Living Arts and then Agriculture & Horticulture. Once into this page, there are some rules and guidelines as it should be fair for all. I was also told on the phone that I could only enter 3 items. I came home that night and spent an hour looking for three pint jars, had my honey already in plastic bottles, but it said pint jars so I’ll do just that. My thought was perhaps the judging needed the jars to look the same so it would be easier to see the differences. I had a number of items to pick through: comb honey in Ross rounds, light honey, dark honey, wax, creamed honey and some hand made candles we made of bees wax. After about an hour of debate between my wife and I, it was decided to enter our light honey, the dark honey and creamed honey. This was a difficult choice to make.
Our light honey was the best honey our bees had made yet. It was a thick rich light golden, with a mild initial taste of fruity, with a nice pleasant after taste. This honey was filtered three times and then bottled. A very nice entry.
Our dark honey was a real oddity of nature. This honey came out almost as dark as motor oil! Darkest honey I have yet seen. The amazing part of this honey was that it had a nice taste, pleasing with a nice after taste. This honey almost resists all light. Darker honeys are used for cooking as the typically have a stronger taste which remains after the item is cooked. Again strained three times and bottled in a pint jar.
Last entry, we chose was the creamed honey. This honey was taken from a hive right after the fruit blossoms fell. We were pleased to find it naturally wanted to be creamy smooth with no texture. This creamed honey did best stored in a fridge and it remained soft. Most creamed honeys have a white appearance, whereas this one was yellow. Our mistake was that it sat in a warm tent for 24 hours before it was graded and probably softened up more.
I then took the trip to the State Fair grounds to place the entries. Once there, I learned that no one knew what classification to enter the honey under, there was not guide or standard to go off of. I knew honey could be almost clear like Karo-syrup and dark as molasses. Well, my light honey looked golden to myself and the ladies taking the money, so it was placed under golden honey. As it turns out my entries were the first to be submitted.
The next morning, I volunteered time at the beehive table, so I walked over to see the honeys. Only 15 entries in all categories. I had thought many people would enter. To my thrill, the judges were just about to judge the honeys. The three judges, one man and two ladies sat at a table with tooth picks and all the entered honeys. I had thought that entries not bottled would be disqualified or ranked lower as they would be hard to compare, guess not! As it turns out, no honeys were entered into the White honey group. When I asked the male judge, he said “you can’t even get white honey here, it only comes from Hawaii“. I was blown away with the response. I knew there were three Nationally recognized areas of White Honey and that white wasn’t the color but was to be compared to water white.
As I looked at the 7 honeys in the first category, the first three were soft yellow and should have been in the White Honey Group but were in the Golden Honey area. The first place winner was in a fancy small jar (not a pint jar) and as light as lemonade. The second and third place honeys were submitted by the same family and looked incredible but still a very soft yellow. These first three had very little color. The fourth place winner was in a milky clear plastic bear bottle which made it tough to tell what the color was. My entry came in fifth, followed up by another entry slightly darker than mine in a pint jar. Two of these entries should have been disqualified or placed at the end due to containers. Multiple entries per household per lot is also a odd thing. With the seven entries in the Golden honey group, three were White honey, and two were in bottles not approved in the rules.
The next area I want to comment on was the Dark Honey. There were only three entries, two entries a soft brown color with light reflecting through them, placing first and second. At the moment, these dark honeys were being tested by the judges I had walked by with an elderly lady. The male judge had just tasted the two lighter honeys and was opening mine. Thought to stop and listen to see what he might say. He was telling the other two lady judges that dark honey should be dark like gear oil. As he put the tooth-pick in, he said that it was really thick and should have a strong taste as it was desired for cooking. He guessed it was honey from Turmeric. The judges then allowed the two of us a chance to taste the two lighter honeys. Both had a grape-y fruit mild taste. Next thing I saw was that they were awarded first and second.
There was another group that I had not entered, Amber Honey. This was an odd group as one was a lighter honey like my Golden with two darker honeys that were properly entered as Amber. The golden honey took first and the two Amber honeys took second and third.
There was two other entrants that submitted items, one was a Ross Round comb honey, which looked good and place first as it was the only submission. The other item was a pint of pollen! The pollen was probably as impressive as the Water white honey that was entered as it a daily tedious task to collect and preserve. This item was probably my favorite in the entire group. There were no wax entries, which shocked me.
In the end, I have to say this competition was a mess from the beginning, with individual contestants judging what color their honey was with no standard to go off of. There is a meter that some beekeeping groups have, that measures the color grade of the honey. This wasn’t used and no color guides, so entries were miss entered and mixed up. Honey has many levels of grading typically. Color, thickness, taste, smell, clarity, texture and cleanliness, and additional qualities within each of these groups as well. With the containers varying from plastic to glass, it would be difficult to compare.
As I have thought about the contest a few thoughts have come up. If the contestants are to pick what group they are in, then it would be better there was no grouping. Judge them all and give awards to the fruitiest, lightest, darkest, most aromatic and so on. If the contest is to remain the way it is, then there needs to be better informed judges perhaps from the honey community with perhaps gauges and such, and experience. With the few entries that there were, perhaps frustration has peeked out from previous years. I saw the other day this same contest in Texas where many entries were brought in. Entrants put the honey in their own bottles with their own labels as if ready to sell. They were judged that way, wow now that was impressive.
My rating on this experience, real downer with less professionalism that I had hoped.