The bees are kept on the slopes of the Corbière hills and the Clape hills, where they feed on rosemary blossoms. The bees might also visit flowers from plants such as thyme, lavender and cistus.
The honey is harvested in June around St John the Baptist’s Day.
It is expensive even in France.
Imitations are made from ordinary honey flavoured with essence of rosemary flower.
Narbonne was founded in 118 BC by the Romans, at the intersection of the road called “Via Domitia” (linking Italy with Spain) with Via Aquitania, a road that headed north-west to the Atlantic ocean. Narbonne was also a port.
Some claims for how old Narbonne Honey is date back to the 12th century; others date it back to the Romans.
“In Roman times, the ivory honey of Harbonne was the most famous honey in Gaul because of the rosemary which gives it its special flavour, as well as the plant’s medicinal and in particular its digestive properties. Roman legions recruited in Tunisia are said to have started beekeeping in the Aude region as a spare-time hobby. At first, only consuls were allowed to eat the honey…. But the occupying Roman forces liked Greek honey even better than the honey of Narbonne.” — Toussaint-Samat, Maguelonne and Anthea Bell. A History of Food. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell, 1994. pp 24-25.
“Narbonne is chiefly celebrated for its honey which is said to be the finest in the world but that which I tasted there I thought too odoriferous. One might fancy himself eating a bouquet. It is certainly totally different in its flavour and of a higher flavour than any other honey but if the same system were pursued in other countries in the management of the hive, honey of a high flavour might be produced elsewhere than at Narbonne. The peculiar excellence of the Narbonne honey is owing to the variety in the nourishment of the bees. The hives are moved from one place to another. From the gardens of Narbonne they are carried to the meadows in the neighbourhood and they are afterwards conveyed thirty or forty miles distant as far as the Low Pyrenees so that the treasures of the gardens, the meadows, and the mountains are all rifled to produce the honey of Narbonne. In England this system, although it would doubtless be attended by corresponding advantages, could not effect all that it effects at Narbonne because numerous aromatic plants that are found in abundance over the most southern of the French provinces are not indigenous to England but the trial is worth making…. Narbonne has scarcely any manufacture, and lives partly by its trade in honey, partly by the transit trade with Spain…” — Inglis, H.D. Switzerland, the South of France, and the Pyrenees.London : Whittaker. 1840. Page 73.
Literature & Lore
“Count Raymond rules in Languedoc,
O’er the champaign fair and wide,
With town and stronghold many a one,
Wash’d by the wave of the blue Garonne,
And from far Auvergne to Rousillon,
And away to Narbonne,
And the mouths of the Rhone;
And his Lyonnois silks and his Narbonne honey,
Bring in his lordship a great deal of money.”
— Rev. Richard H. Barham. The Ingoldsby Legends, Vol 3. 1847.
“It happened that the principal of the college received some pots of Narbonne honey, which came under the eyes of Cartouche, and in which that young gentleman, as soon as ever he saw them, determined to put his fingers. The president of the college put aside his honey-pots in an apartment within his own; to which, except by the one door which led into the room which his reverence usually occupied, there was no outlet. There was no chimney in the room; and the windows looked into the court, where there was a porter at night, and where crowds passed by day. What was Cartouche to do? — have the honey he must. ” — William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863). The Paris Sketch Book: Cartouche. 1840.