August 14, 2018

Heather Hills Farm – Sweet success

Established from humble beginnings of just one hive in 1945, Heather Hills Farm is a Great Taste award-winning Scottish producer of artisanal raw honeys and handcrafted preserves that are internationally recognised for their superior quality and distinct flavour.

A traditional family-run honey farm based in the Perthshire Highlands, we have 1300 hives located across rural Perthshire and Royal Deeside – the most beautiful parts of Scotland. Our signature Scottish Heather and Blossom Honeys are farmed, collected and extracted using traditional methods and never heated over the normal temperature of the hive to ensure their natural unique characters and health benefits are not destroyed. In wine terms, our Scottish Heather Honey – gathered from wild-flowering heather – is known as the ‘Champagne of Honeys’ due to the geographical location of our hives, the terrain and climate.

As honey is like wine and dictated by its terroir – the flower, the nectar, the soil, the climate, the bees, the people and practices, to complement our Scottish Honey range, our Honey Sommelier has specifically selected a range of raw monofloral honeys from around the world, each for their unique aroma, flavour and palate.

A Citaslow Supporter and members of the British Bee Farmers and Scottish Beekeepers Associations, we are passionate and devoted to our craft and the honey bee, and work extensively with our local Perthshire berry growers, where fruit culture has been a lifelong passion for over a century. They depend on our 52m worker bees to carry out the necessary pollination required for optimum crop yields and the perfect berry – both in size, shape, colour and flavour. In turn, our bees gather the nectar to produce our outstanding Scottish Blossom Honey whilst keeping their colonies strong. It’s a natural synergy and one formative in our jam making.

Our award-winning artisan preserves capture the vibrant flavours of this whole Perthshire fruit in their most inherent, purest form. Considered by nature, we use whole fruit – not pulp or concentrate, lovingly handcraft in small batches in traditional open pans, and then bottle and label by hand. Perhaps not the easiest method, but the best to ensure quality and excellence of each and every jar.

Each sale partakes in a very special relationship between our honey bees and the many foods they help produce; this not only prevents the decline of the honey bee – a truly great natural pollinator – but also supports the continued production of the best soft fruit in the world.

Recognised internationally, we encourage partnerships that not only seek the best of Scottish provenance, full traceability and the integrity of our supply chain, but also support the survival of the honey bee and the conservation of its natural environment both here in Scotland and abroad.

We believe everything deserves the best – naturally – since 1945.

Outline the company’s range of services and facilities supporting the operation including the number of staff.

As well as producing our very own Scottish Blossom and Heather Honeys gathered by our 52 million bees together with our artisan preserves handmade with whole Perthshire fruit pollinated by our own bees, we also produce our own beeswax candles and recently launched a 100% natural skincare range of handcreams, lipbalms and soaps, all made from our signature Scottish Heather Honey.

We educate and encourage the public to adopt bee friendly behaviour and promote the development of gardens and the general environment to the advantage of the honey bee. The honey bee population is in decline and we want to increase awareness of the importance of bees in pollination and their continued survival. As such, we offer several adoption packages – from adopting a bee to adopting a hive – where you can contribute to ensuring their survival and essential work. Each product sale goes towards supporting the survival of the honeybee and their essential work in pollinating the world’s food crops.

As we work with nature, we are more conscious orientated and, as such, coherency is important to us. It is vital we maintain this integrity throughout our supply chain – not just our core team of 6-10 staff depending on the season – but everyone down our supply chain – from nature, our bees and our farmers to our retailers and customers – to ensure that everyone shares the same vision. Our business is essentially an ecosystem of which everyone and everything plays a vital role.

Give details of the most significant developments that you have been involved in recently, also winning your 3 star award in the Top 50 within the Great Taste Awards 2017.  What does this mean for the company and how was it achieved?

In 2011 we won a Great Taste Gold Award for our signature Scottish Heather Honey and after winning the World Jampionship Awards in 2011 and 2012 for our handcrafted Scottish artisan preserves, the ultimate accolade was received when we were asked to join the panel of judges the following year.

Our Scottish Raspberry Jam, Scottish Heather Honey Tablet and Bulgarian Lime Honeys were amongst the Great Taste Award-winners last year and this year, out of over 12,300 products to be judged, we were only one of two Scottish artisans to scoop a Great Taste Top 50 Foods in the World 2017 accolade for our 3-star award-winning Raw Tasmanian Leatherwood Honey, together with 1-star awards for our Scottish Heather Honey with Whisky and handcrafted Scottish Marmalade with Heather Honey.

The principles of raw honey – where the honey is not heated over the normal temperature of the hive and is unfiltered – is now only just being understood. However, it is still not widely known that honey is like wine and dictated by its terroir – the flower, the nectar, the soil, the climate, the bees, the people and the practices. It’s basically nature’s way of creating something so wonderful from a recipe of variable elements.

We are passionate about Scottish provenance and delighted to have won awards for our recipes that pair our signature Scottish Heather Honey – gathered from wild-flowering heather – with other key ingredients that allow the marriage of flavours to truly shine. Our Scottish Heather Honey with Whisky is blended with the 10 year old Edradour Malt from our local distillery in Pitlochry and in recognition to the time-honoured tradition of marmalade making in Dundee, we have handcrafted our Scottish Marmalade with Heather Honey, a thin-cut Seville orange marmalade that blends the aroma and taste of the Spanish orange groves into our late Scottish summer.

However, there are so many other honeys from around the world – each with a different aroma, palate, finish and texture. Some we cannot produce in the UK and some far superior than those we can produce – this due to their terroir. As such, to complement our Scottish Honeys, we have created our Connoisseur Range – a selection of the finest, raw monofloral honeys sourced from around the world – specially selected for their unique characters, all traditionally gathered and raw.

For example, Leatherwood Honey only comes from Tasmania of which the Leatherwood Tree is indigenous. It grows in an ancient rainforest dating back 65 million years and takes 250 years to mature before it can blossom to produce the nectar for the bees to gather. The honey captures the wonderful aromas of these humid rainforests. Known as the ‘Nectar of the Gods’, it has a smooth, buttery full-bodied finish with an unbeatable floral aroma and has been described by judges as: “stunning…perfect continuity of nose and palate; amazing length, powerfully individual aroma yet somehow subtly engaging…Perfection”. Recognised by the global Slow Food movement’s Ark of Taste – an international catalogue of endangered heritage foods that are sustainably produced, unique in taste and part of a distinct ecoregion – it’s a varietal with character and one not to be missed!

What is your current assessment of the current marketplace and what major trends have you noticed recently within the sector and what do you believe have been the main drivers behind them?

There is an increase in health and environmentally conscious consumers looking for raw, natural foods and sweeteners who actively consider how and where their food is sourced. Consumers are looking for full transparency in what they are eating in which provenance is 100% traceable. They are not only looking towards the health benefits of raw honey and the environmental impact of the food they are eating, but becoming more welcoming to a plethora of flavours from far-flung regions of the world.

What are the biggest challenges currently facing the company?

Bee disease and bad weather. Crop yields of our Scottish Heather and Blossom Honeys are limited to these; a poor season can result in weaker colonies and a bad winter can result in the death of these weaker colonies. There is also a loss of natural habitat and a lack of forage from declining wildflower meadows.

What are the main aims of the company for the future, both in the long-term and the short-term?

As Citaslow Supporters and members of the British Bee Farmers and Scottish Beekeepers Associations our aim is to create partnerships that not only encourage Scottish provenance and our passion for honey, but the survival of the honeybee and the conservation of its natural environment here in Scotland and abroad. Wild honey bees have been practically wiped out by disease and managed colonies now need careful management to ensure their survival. Without the tireless work of our buzzing friends, over one third of what we eat would disappear from our tables.