About 60 miles south of Albuquerque on I-25 is Lemitar, NM, a Phillips 66 station on the west edge of a tiny village that I guess I’ve driven past dozens of times without really noticing until the other day. What caught my eye was the bright yellow van parked in front of a small cluttered farm a bit north of the actual town. In bold black lettering the van proclaims that HONEY is available. Driving another mile or two to the Lemitar exit I leave the interstate at the Phillips 66, turning north on the frontage road (ok, if you’re driving on an interstate and can't determine your direction of travel, please step out of the gene pool at the earliest opportunity, thank you). The frontage road is only 60 yards from the interstate while being at least that many years in the past. While the interstate cuts straight through even the slightest rise with nary but the most sweeping curve, the frontage road lays on the very nap of the land, a series of what would, on a dirt bike trail be whoopdidoos, and sharp turns, an inviting playground for a middle-aged kid in a fast car; the speed limit on the frontage road is 30 mph but believe me, it’s much more fun at 60.
The farm consists of an unfinished two storey house with an impressive iron gate, and is surrounded by old trucks and mobile homes and overrun with half-feral chickens. Enter the gate, do not make eye contact with the little rooster with the giant ego, and ring the door buzzer. Before long you will be ushered into the Bee Chama store by Glen, the guy who holds down the fort while the rest of what appears to be an apiest commune traverses the state (and country) with their truck loads of bees, doing commercial pollinating as well as just parking and letting their bees sample native flowers in remote areas. The results are outstanding, with varietal honeys such as desert wildflower, mesquite and mountain wildflower. Their commercial work in the almond groves of California allows Bee Chama to trade with other beekeepers for varieties such as wild blackberry and meadow foam, as well as new stock to keep their bees genetically diverse and resistant to parasites and (so far) colony collapse disorder. The meadow foam is the sweetest honey I’ve ever tasted, with hints of vanilla lending it the unmistakable flavor of a marshmallow.
One thing has to be said about the Bee Chama crew, they do not fit your likely preconception of what a beekeeper looks like, a soft-spoken, slow-moving old man with kind eyes. This bunch looks more like a professional mountain bike racing team, all tats, facial hair and a passionate excitement for what they do.
After tasting several varieties with Glen, who snatches up any spilled drop with his finger, I settle on a quart of the desert wildflower for fifteen bucks. It is a strongly flavored dark honey that Glen tells me reminds older customers of the honey they used to get wild. Which reminds me, all of the Bee Chama honeys are wild, unpasteurized and unfiltered, the proof is in opening the lids with specks of honey comb, pollen and possibly a bee’s leg (it’s protein, shaddup) apparent.
Bee Chama honey is available at Albuquerque area farmers’ markets or online at beechamahoney.com.
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