The Ohio State Fair just ended and I thought I'd write up a blog on honey quality and how honey is judged for competitions. I'll probably throw in a few pictures of Audrey and I exploring the fair, ramble a bit about that, and then get right back into writing about technical honey jargon. This promises to be one of those "too long; didn't read" posts. I apologize for nothing.
We've done at least one honey competition for the last four years. It's a lot of fun to go see the other entries and a great leaning experience: the judges have no way of knowing whose honey they are judging, so it's a unique opportunity for us to get unbiased objective feedback on our honey. For the Ohio Sate Fair this year, we entered our spring honey, our summer honey, and a honey frame. We did pretty well: our spring honey got third place in its category, our summer honey came in second in its category, and our honey frame took Best of Show!
Audrey and I stopped by the fair last Saturday to check out the honey show, see the butter
sculpture, pet the baby cows, and fill up on junk food: mission accomplished. We also rode the sky-buckets, which apparently was too high up and not very much fun. However, the nature center at the back of the fairgrounds was super fun. We got to see a geode, four tortoises, and several birds. There was even a man from the Department of Natural Resources handing out free glacial maps of Ohio and of course we took one.
At the end of the fair, I get to pick up all my honey entries, and attached to each is a scorecard with the judge's notes. I thought it might be fun to share those score cards on this blog and talk about how honey is categorized and how honey quality is judges. And when I say fun, I mean like learning about how oxygen-isotope analysis of deep sea sediments indicates that more than a dozen glaciations occurred during the Ice Age kind of fun (there's an informational text on the back of the glacial map).
Most honey shows will have categories for a number of different honey products. Extracted (liquid) honey, creamed honey, comb honey, chunk honey, beeswax, honey frames, baked goods, and gift baskets are common categories. Extracted honey is further divided by color, Water White being the lightest and Dark Amber being the darkest. These color categories are the same as those established by the USDA and are industry standard. There will typically be ribbons awarded in each color category, with Best of Show going to the best overall entry.
The color categories for the honey entries, as well as the main criteria on which they are judged come from the USDA Standards for Extracted Honey, which can be viewed here.
The score card is pretty straightforward. There are seven different qualities on which the honey is judged, each with a different number of possible points. The first two categories have to do with the appropriateness and quality of the honey containers and the care taken in filling them. As you can see, I lost three points due to manufacturing defects in the jars and one point due to an overfilled jar. The final five categories have to do with the quality of the honey itself and the care taken in processing it. Here I lost one point for density (moisture content). Even though 16.2% is excellent, and well below the 18.6% moisture content limit for U.S. Grade A honey, competitions typically are a lot stricter. From my experience, the Ohio State Fair starts taking off points above 16%.
Our summer honey got full points for density. Four-tenths of a percent difference wouldn't be noticeable if you were pouring honey on your cornflakes, but since its a competition, every little bit counts. Again, the bees did an awesome job making the honey, it just gets messed up when some dumb human comes along to put the stuff in a bottle.
My thinking is that the honey frame won best in show because the bees did all the work: very little for me to mess up other than getting the frames out of the hives and over to the fair. Honey frames are required to be delivered to the fair in some sort of bee-proof case, I assume to avoid attracting bees and to prevent sticky messes. Honey frames are judged in a very similar way to comb honey where preference is given to a entries that have pristine white beeswax totally covering the honey from edge to edge. For eating, this doesn't make a difference, but it sure is pretty to look at. It's going to be a shame to ruin those nice white cappings when I extract this frame later this year, but honey's for eating, not for lookin' at.
Until next time,