These famed San Francisco Bay Area restaurateurs get theirs from Marshall's Farm Natural Honey. And so do lucky souls such as my wife and I, who took a short drive south from Napa to tour the property. It was a rainy weekday afternoon, so we were the only visitors -- which meant we got a private showing from the beekeeper himself, Spencer Marshall. On certain set days each month, you can call ahead and arrange a private walk around as well; most of the time, there are group tours set up. Marshall's Farm is a cool place to be with bees because you can get up close and get to wear one of those netted masks.
Spencer, born in McMinnville, Oregon, comes from a long line of family farmers. While working on a ranch in California's central valley, he became immersed in the effects of bees and pollination. He saw that the almond crop, for instance, was totally dependent on honey bees for pollination. He signed some pollination contracts and moved his bees to the almond groves -- and then to cherry and apple orchards, and the clover fields of the San Joaquin Valley. He now has apiaries in several locations, and takes advantage of the Bay Area's ever-changing seasonal blooms: eucalyptus, star thistle, wildflower, and blackberry, to name but a few. The floral nectars and pollens of each differ greatly in taste and texture, which was obvious as we sampled squeezes of each from variously labeled plastic honey bears.
Helene Marshall does not fit the profile of the beekeeper's wife. She was born and raised in San Francisco, has a degree in Sculpture from UC Berkeley, taught Junior High in Syracuse, N.Y. and raised two daughters in Massachusetts. Helene is the Farm's marketing maven. She packages the nectar in jars, squeeze bottles, straws, and combines it all in innumerable gift baskets. Helene and Spencer have been making sweet honey together since 1990.
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Marshall's Farm Honey is raw, 100% pure, unheated, uncooked, unfiltered, natural, organic, and certified kosher."We don't use any pipes, pumps, or filters in the extracting process," Spencer told us, "and all bottles are hand-filled." After watching the bees, who were quite busy at work considering the inclement weather, he showed us the rather rickety machines used to process it all. He has a small staff of workers helping out, and it's rather amazing just how much honey they are able to produce. Spencer is a humble guy, too; he didn't mention that he sold his honey to famous chefs until I brought it up after noticing an invoice for Thomas Keller's The French Laundry posted on a wall. "Yeah, we sell to Alice Waters's place [Chez Panisse] and some other restaurants too" he admitted.
If you go to northern California, consider stopping at Marshall's. But I'm not telling you about some delicious commodity that you can't get unless you head west. Just head to the website, and you'll find that Marshall's ships everywhere.
Marshall's Farm Honey
159 Lombard Rd., American Canyon, CA