In the wild oak forests of the Strandzha massif, the undergrowth is shrouded in light morning mists and the foliage glistens with honeydew.
Honeybees forage this sweet, natural substance to produce Strandzhanski manov med PDO, a smooth brown honey with a slightly bitter aftertaste.
Local producers use time-honed techniques to ensure that the natural tastes and nutrients of the honey are retained in the final product.
Strandzhanski manov med PDO is sourced from the ancient oak forests of the Strandzha massif in Bulgaria.
Rising at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, the Strandzha massif is surrounded by the Black, Aegean, and Marmara seas. Humid maritime air rolls into the region, bathing the forest floors in light morning mists throughout the spring and summer.
Under these conditions, a rich mosaic of plant life flourishes in combinations that are unique in Europe. The forest vegetation closely resembles the Pontic flora of the Caucasus and Asia Minor; amongst the species to be found are rhododendron ponticum, daphne pontica, Black Sea holly (Ilex colchica), and viper's bugloss (Echium), as well as local varieties of plantains, clematis, clover and rockrose.
Many of these species boast a deep ancestry, dating back beyond the Quaternary Period (which began 2.6 million years ago). The ice sheets that frequently spread across northern and eastern Europe during this period stopped short of the Strandzha; as a result, plant life which was widespread across Europe during the Tertiary Period (65 – 2.6 million years ago) has been preserved here up to the present day.
Known as tertiary relict flora, these species include veronica turrilliana, Caucasian whortleberry, and sage-leaved rockrose, as well as some varieties of oak, such as Quercus hartwissiana (known as Strandzha oak) and Quercus polycarpa.
Such is its ecological depth and diversity, the Strandzha region has been recognised as one of the priority areas for environmental protection in the EU. The massif is home to several nature reserves and is included in the pan-European Natura 2000 ecological network of protected natural habitats.
The people of the Strandzha region live in harmony with the nature of their surroundings. While the brown cinnamonic forest soils and podzolic yellow earth soils make large-scale agriculture difficult, the oak forests provide plenty of food for honeybees, making beekeeping a natural pursuit for local communities. The fringes of the Strandzha forests are lined with apiaries, many of which contain traditional bee skeps and stumps that date from the end of the 19th century.
The unique natural heritage of Strandzhanski manov med was recognised by the EU in 2019, when the product’s name was certified with a protected designation of origin (PDO).
Strandzhanski manov med PDO is very much a product of its natural environment; the production process is entwined in the interactions between the flora and fauna of the forest ecosystem.
The process begins amongst the foliage of the oak forests, where small insects, such as aphids and acorn weevils, tap the leaves for their sugary sap and secrete an even sweeter substance, known as honeydew.
The warm maritime climate of the Strandzha massif creates perfect conditions for the production of honeydew. Because of the region’s humidity, the leaves grow large, thereby better facilitating the transpiration process as well as providing an increased surface area for the insects to feed on. The light mists that envelop the forests also ensure that the drops of sap and honeydew linger on the foliage for longer; heavier mists would cause the drops to grow larger and to fall from the leaves.
In the months of June, July and August, oak honeydew is the main forage for bees in the Strandzha forests, as there are few nectar-producing flowers in bloom. Once collected, the bees transform the honeydew into honey, which they store in hives on the forest edge.
When the honey has matured in the hive for a sufficient amount of time, the beekeepers remove the honeycomb and place it in a centrifugal extractor. This device rotates the honeycomb at a high speed, separating the honey from the waxen structure through centrifugal force. Once separated, the honey is filtered, homogenised, and clarified in settling tanks for at least 24 hours.
Decanting, packaging and labelling are carried out in clean and suitable premises, located within the geographical area in order to guarantee quality and traceability. Crystallised honey is liquefied by being heated at a temperature of up to 42 °C, the maximum temperature reached in the beehive during the honey harvest.
In comparison with most nectar-based honeys, Strandzhanski manov med PDO is marked by an intensity of colour and a slight bitterness of taste, primarily due to the microflora present in the honeydew. The composition of the honeydew also leads to an abundance of micronutrients, such as potassium, magnesium, and lithium, as well as a high level of antioxidants.