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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Sweetness of Honey

Milwaukee’s Kallas Farm

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The springtime bloom ushers in the season of the honeybee, the buzzing black-and-yellow bug that dances from flower to flower, gathering nectar to make honey for the hive. While honey is a source of energy for the bee colony, human beings have come to enjoy the product of that insect labor too. In all its forms and for all its uses, honey is loved by many—a fact that has kept Milwaukee’s own Kallas Honey Farm in business for nearly 70 years.

Honey is not, as some people think, bee poo. Quite the opposite, in fact. In the hive, female worker bees ingest and process nectar in their “honey stomachs” multiple times. After a final regurgitation, the bees store the processed nectar in the honeycomb, a structure also created by the worker bees (bees of a certain age secrete wax from glands on their abdomen, and this forms the walls and caps of the honeycomb). Bees inside the hive fan their wings, creating a strong draft across the honeycomb that encourages evaporation of the water remaining in the nectar. The reduction of the water content raises sugar concentration and prevents fermentation of the natural yeast in the nectar.

Kallas Honey Farm began in 1941 when John Kallas developed an interest in beekeeping while helping a neighbor in Fox Point tend to his hobby hive. As payment for Kallas’ effort, the neighbor gave him a hive. In only a few years, Kallas had close to 100 hives and a small processing operation. He enlisted his sons James and Gerald to help him sell the family’s honey through door-to-door sales calls and at farmers’ markets county fairs. Later, James and his dad expanded the business by tapping into the retail market, first negotiating with tiny mom-and-pop grocers, then pairing up with bigger supermarkets, like Kohl’s.

By 1955, Kallas Honey Farm had almost 1,000 hives scattered across Milwaukee, Ozaukee and Washington counties. When demand for its honey increased, Kallas had to start buying honey from other local producers in order to fill their own orders. In the early-’70s, the family decided to abandon beekeeping completely to concentrate on the processing, packaging, marketing and distribution of their honey.

Kallas Honey Farm is now steered by the third generation of Kallas men: James’ sons Perry, who serves as vice president of operations, and Peter, who is currently vice president of sales and distribution. According to Perry, Kallas Honey Farm packages approximately 2 million pounds of honey a year. They work from a 30,000-square-foot facility on Douglas Avenue that houses the farm’s administrative offices, as well as the storage and packaging areas.

Kallas Honey Farm receives honey from producers all over the country, but mostly from Wisconsin and Minnesota. It arrives at the facility in bulk as a raw, naturally crystallized solid, and is immediately placed in long-term storage.

“Our customers here ask us to handle the honey as gently as we can,” Perry explains. “So rather than pasteurize or cook it, we simply heat the honey to help it move through the plant.”

Rather than add filtering agents to make the honey clear like most major honey producers, Kallas allows the honey to pass through membranes that catch fine sediments.

“It’s just another set of processes that we choose not to do,” Perry adds. “That’s how we are able to label it unfiltered and uncooked.”

The color and flavor of honey differ depending on the source of bees’ nectar. In general, lighter-colored honey is delicate and mild, while darker honey is bolder and more robust. Also, honey does not take on the flavor of the fruit from the same plant. For example, honey derived from bees foraging from an orange blossom isn’t going to taste like orange. Kallas’ retail product line includes a wide variety of honey. From lightest to darkest, they are: alfalfa, clover, orange blossom, sunflower, cranberry blossom, wildflower, buckwheat and blueberry blossom.

The largest percentage of Kallas honey goes to supplying commercial food manufacturers, restaurants and bakeries. In addition to honey, consumers can purchase other Kallas products, such as honey mustard, honey barbecue sauce, dried bee pollen, pure beeswax, honeycomb, honey-flavored snacks and pure maple syrup from Outpost, Sendik’s and other area grocers.

Kallas Honey Farm is located at 5500 W. Douglas Ave. For more information, call 1-800-373-HONY (4669) or visit www.kallashoney.com.

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