Lebanon’s honey path

08 Nov 2015
5 min read
Thanks to its small territory, Lebanon is one of the only countries in the world where bees can find natural sources of nectar all year long. Because of the diversity of its altitudes that range from 0 to 3000 meters, its position on the Mediterranean, its 4 distinct seasons, and the diversity of its flora, flowering seasons occur almost all year long. As a result, Lebanon’s honey is one of the best in the world. FOUR speaks to one entrepreneurial company, L’Atelier du Miel to find out why their sweet nectar is honey with class…

L’AtelierduMielwas founded by three young entrepreneurs, Marc-Antoine Bou Nassif, an architect, Ralph Bou Nassif, a management consultant and Rabih Traboulsi,a computer engineer,sharing the same passion for nature, craftsmanship and good taste. The three men had been looking for a way to reconnect with their land and drift away from the corporate life. They found out about beekeeping through a friend who came from a family of beekeepers. It only took them a few months to decide to invest and buy 90 beehives from local producers. Today, L’AtelierduMielmanages 1000 beehives and produces 16 tons and 15 different types of 100% honey per year.

To produce natural honey, L’AtelierduMielhas adopted a unique production method whereby it repositions beehives all year long acrossLebanonto follow flower blossoms.Thereby, bees harvest nectar and honeydew from Cedars in Barouk forests, Oak trees in Keserouan forests, from fields of cherry in Zahle, peach and apricot trees in Rechmaya, hawthorn in Kab Elias, thorns in Ain Dara, Medlar trees in Saida, and orange trees in Tyre and Akkar. The bees are moved from one location to the other allyear long depending on the seasons.This enables L’AtelierduMielto offer 100% natural honeys, with various aromas and countless virtues, free from any additives and pesticides.

L’AtelierduMiel’s goals are to repositionLebanonas one of the best producers of honey in the world. It’s production is also based on fair trade principles, as L’AtelierduMielcollaborates and empowers local farmers by giving them sustainablework opportunities. FOUR speaks to Marc-Antoine Bou Nassif and Ralph Bou Nassifto find out a little bit more about theirfabulous project…

Where did you grow up?

Marc-Antoine |I grew up in the greater Beirut area, in Hazmieh, a small hill overlooking the city, but used to spend summers on the coast.Even though Lebanon has a very diverse topography in a very small geographical area, allowing it to be very rich in fauna, flaura but also in people’s culture and habits, taking advantage of this richness was compromised by the events during our childhood.Nonetheless, I remember we had a small field of olive trees next to our house where we used to play with our friends, and I keep very nice memories from this contact with nature.

Ralph|I grew up in Mount Lebanon, close to Beirut. Lebanon being such a small but rich country, what I remember about growing up is the diversity of places we lived in. Over a single year, we moved from the seaside to the mountains, and from the big city to our small village.

What did you aspire to be when you grew up?

M-A|I wanted to be the president of the state, or a philosopher, I haven’t lost hope.

R|A doctor – until the day before the university entrance exam!

Can you tell us a bit about the story behind L’Atelier du Miel?

M-A|L’Atelier du miel, is all about the need to reconnect with nature, and rediscover Lebanon. In the summer of 2011, we felt that need and began to think about an activity that could satisfy our craving, we thought about agriculture, we thought about cattle, we even thought about snails, but none was answering our quest, until we found beekeeping…. As you know beekeeping is one of the most natural activities that exist, with the least human intervention…. Moreover, it is very specific of the natural environment that surrounds it, so placing a beehive in different locations would capture these locations in a golden elixir “honey”. And that was a revelation.It was an opportunity for us to reconnect not only to nature but to also discover the richness of Lebanon, in its nature, its people, its villages…

R|L’Atelier du Miel for me is first and foremost a journey of exploration. It was 3 young people who wanted to get out of the office and reconnect with nature. What better way to do it than to embrace a profession that is all about understanding the cyclicality of nature, the different flowers, trees, seasons, etc. and to go from forest, to meadow, to fields all year long.

How did you find your way to into the world of being beekeepers and artisan honey producers?

Both | Ourbackgrounds did not prepare usto becomebeekeepers at all! However it was lack of preparation that enabled us not to repeat the same old practices and find better ways to produce the best quality artisanal honey. Creating the Lebanese Bee Trail was one of these new ideas we conceived and applied to make 15 different types of natural Lebanese honeys.

What do you think makes the honey from L’Atelier du Miel so special in your opinion?

Both|Beekeeping is a tough profession, not only it requires knowledge but it also requires a lot of practice, since you are dealing with a live creature, that all theoreticians still have many difficulties understanding.But what could have been a handicap, turned out to be our best advantage, we had a fresh eye and did not replicate the same habits that all beekeepers have. We set what we called the honey trail in Lebanon, this honey trail could capture the whole Lebanese territory in a bee mobility calendar covering the whole year with flower blossoming.

In the beginning of 2015 we saw that our sales would exceed our production so we set what we call our Quality Assurance Program, which enables us to adopt beehives from other beekeepers, from which we buy the full production, at the condition of covering a full year for the beehive to feed on natural resources by moving it to follow flower blossom, (we consequently buy all the kinds of honey produced) but also with a continuous quality control –visits to the apiary and to the extraction facility during extraction phase- and finally quality tests where we test all honey for sugar content, but most importantly for pesticide and antibiotic residue.

And this is why L’Atelier du Miel’s honey is so different: bees have fed on natural resources all year long, our honey is raw honey from the comb, not heated, not blended, exactly as it was harvested from the beehive,our honey is pesticide residue free, and antibiotic residue free, our honey is varied with some of the rarest honeys that exist (like the loquat honey, the carob tree honey, the wild flower honey specific to the Lebanese moutains), and last but not least, the biodiversity of the Lebanese flora, where there are no monoculture.

What do your roles entail on a daily basis?

M-A|Starting a company entails doing almost everything from dreaming big to properly placing the jar on the shelf. Even though we have started to grow and employed skilled personnel, we are still involved in approximately all activities. Some of those activities we may someday delegate fully and other we are very keen on keeping, like beekeeping.One thing worth mentioning, is the fact that, as partners, we collaborate in steering the business, but each one of us comes from a different background, and hence injects his own spirit in L’Atelier Du Miel, for example I am an architect, and building and preserving the company’s identity is one of my main concerns.

R|When you co-running your own business, you have to do everything from developing a strategy to buying lightbulbs. We have however opted internally for some specialization where I focused, alongside beekeeping, on developing the brand’s strategy and growth plan.

What interesting trends/themes are going on in the honey world?

M-A|The better see the honey production trends today, one should follow consumer trends, who are shifting towards:Non industrial production – unprocessed food,transparent and informative brands,ethical production (fair trade but also environmentally friendly),real brands, brands that actually have faces behind them,specialized brands and diverse in their offering.

R|The most interesting trend for me is the revived interest of people in eating clean and healthy honey and re-integrating it in their daily diet. The food revolution is happening and honey is being an integral part of it!

What are some interesting honey ‘blends’ that you would say are really worth trying?

M-A|I would recommend some typical Lebanese honeys, like the oak honey, the cedar honey, or the typical Lebanese mountain thistle honey (which is very particular).I would also recommend some more special honeys, like the loquat honey and the carob tree honey.

R|The only honey blends that we encourage are the ones that are blended naturally, i.e. multi-floral honeys that came from bees foraging a site that has multiple sources of nectar. Otherwise pure honeys should not be blended. Some of the natural “blends” we love are honeys gathered in forests having cedar trees and a variety of thorns, or honeys gathered in fields of acacia and banana trees.

Find out more about L’Atelier du Miel here…