Meet the Maker: Catskill Provisions

Claire Marin

When Claire Marin was a publishing executive at Woman’s Day, beekeeping was her hobby. Then, the face of publishing began to change—the printed communications world experiencing the rapid rise of the digital age.

Clare shares, “Many in the publishing world saw the new era of digital communications as a serious threat. People divided into two camps and it was discussed constantly whether this was a detriment or an opportunity. To be part of this at the executive level started to feel like something I couldn’t personally solve. It was just too big.

“I turned to watching my bees. They were working together in cooperation toward a common goal and their role in their environment was clearly defined. I began thinking that if we treated the world as our hive, maybe our outlook would be different. That’s the inspiration that I brought with me as I shifted from publishing to starting Catskill Provisions in 2010.”

Claire knew she eventually wanted to make honey whiskey, but barrels of rye must age for years. During the long wait after laying down the rye, she decided to make honey the core of her business and work from there.

Led by the pillars of integrity and authenticity, every Catskill Provisions product is a nod toward the greater good: contributing to environmental sustainability, fueling local economies, and protecting pollinators. Today, Claire tends over 300 beehives in New York State’s Delaware, Sullivan, and Madison Counties, working with local beekeepers to create small batch, hand-packed honey harvested twice annually in fall and spring.

When asked why—other than their collaborative spirits—she was so attracted to honey, Claire shared, “With honey, you’re consuming so much less sweet. You only need about one teaspoon of honey versus three teaspoons of sugar. Our chocolate honey truffles are a great way to reward yourself without tons of sugar. They get their sweetness from a tiny amount of our honey in the ganache and the low sugar in the 72% dark chocolate we use. I like to think of it as guilt-free indulgence.”  

Catskill Provisions Raw Wildflower Spring Honey evokes the wildflowers of spring with floral notes of cherry and pear blossom. It naturally pairs well with cheese, yogurt, light teas, cocktails, and vinaigrettes. The Raw Wildflower Fall Honey is complex, with deep flavors of chestnut and maple. It pairs perfectly with aged cheeses, chocolate, and darker teas, and is ideal for use in marinades and cocktails.

You’ll definitely want to stick a fry in Honey Infused All-Natural Ketchup, sweetened with the fall honey. “I was coming across many families who use a lot of ketchup, but don’t want all the junk that comes in most commercial ketchups—high-fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors, preservatives. Without all that, your health, the health of your family, and the flavor benefit. You just don’t need the junk. The tomatoes that are the base of this ketchup are themselves so flavorful. Honey is a great stabilizer, is antibacterial, and has natural preservatives.”

Eventually, it made sense to add New York Grade A Maple Syrup to the product lineup. “Maple syrup was a natural extension of honey harvesting. Bees naturally pollinate the maple trees so there are maple notes in the honey and the maple industry is an important backbone of the economy in upstate New York. We tap over 2,000 maple trees working with fourth generation harvesters and it feels good to be part of this underappreciated, sustainable, local resource.”

“When using the maple syrup at home, I realized there was no really good organic pancake and waffle mix on the market, so that seemed like a natural opportunity. It is made of traceably sourced wheat that is stone ground and lovingly bagged by hand within a month of milling it. You can’t get any fresher and the result is super fluffy pancakes and waffles.”  

The Savory Pantry has wrapped up the Waffle and Pancake Mix, Maple Syrup, and Honey in a hyacinth gift basket and tied it with a bow in our Catskill Provisions Breakfast Basket. Get ready for an excellent brunch.

Apple Cider Vinegar

Another offering is Apple Cider Vinegar, made from heirloom varieties of apples that are grown and pressed by local farmers. “We take the press and age it, then instill it with honey and herbs. I love to use it in place of wine to lend complexity to sauces, and it makes a great dressing or cocktail shrub. Plus, you get all the health befits for which apple cider vinegar is known.”  

Remember that rye that was laid to age in 2010? It has now become award-winning honey whiskey.

“The whiskey is made from two ingredients: locally-sourced, fiery, complex rye and the right amount of infused fall honey. It is a mellow, well-rounded spirit.”

As Winner of the Chairman’s Trophy with a 94 rating from the prestigious Ultimate Spirits Challenge 2017 and a Gold Medal at the 2017 SIP Awards, judges agree.

Next up on Claire’s to-do list? Becoming the fourth woman in the US to have a distillery. With more than 1,700 run by men, the meaning of her endeavor is all in the numbers.  

Why these numbers? Claire says, “Right now I’m reading a book on the history of women and distilling. The first women distillers were accused of being witches. In the 1600 and 1700s, women were actually doing this regularly. If you look at scotch distilleries, they were all managed by women, but across the board, the men were the face of the distillery.”

Claie Marin

What is different now? “The cocktail scene is becoming much more open and widespread. Women are really interested in whiskey which has traditionally been viewed as a man’s drink. In general, there is more focus the brown spirits. Palates want variety. I wanted to create a drinkable whiskey that most anyone could pick up and love easily. You don’t need to be a professional drinker to enjoy this, although we’re lucky to have avid whiskey drinkers as followers.”

If Catskill Provisions embraces anything, it is change.

“It is exhilarating being an entrepreneur. You have to love it. You’re not going to get rich doing it, but there’s a lot of satisfaction in bringing great products to market that are so admired by customers. It’s so enjoyable making connections in this little corner of the world.”

“And it’s fun to see where it will take me next, what is the unanticipated but natural progression. You can’t marry one product. You have to read the market at all times. Change happens. We can’t be stuck or we won’t survive. We need to be willing to evolve so we can feel, stay, and be relevant. And atop everything, remain authentic and true to the part of the brand that matters. You have to really stay within what is important to you because consumers will see right through it if you don’t.  

There’s a bit of masochism in running a small business. I couldn’t do any of this without serious passion. At the end of the day I’m exhausted, and satisfied, and ready to do it all again.”

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Meet the Maker: Patagonia Bee Products

Flavors of the Rainforest?

Ever imagined the lush rainforests of Patagonia as a taste? If making this sensory translation seems challenging, dip your spoon into Patagonia Bee Products’ honeys, and you’ll get it. Like wine, honey imbues flavors and aromas from the flowering trees visited by the bees who make it, imparting luscious floral properties into the honey. Since the hives that yield Ulmo, Tiaca, and Tineo honeys (named for the flowers pollinated by the bees producing them) border the pristine, native, largely untouched rainforests of Chile, a single taste instantly transports you. Because these flowers are endemic to the virgin rainforest, Patagonia is the only place in the world these honeys are found. All this is another way of saying that even if you commit your lifetime to doing so, you’ll be hard pressed to find honey more delicious and pure.

Jacob Perry of Patagonia Bee Products

Jacob Perry of Patagonia Bee Products

When native Arkansan Jacob Perry went to South America for a backpacking trip in 2011, little did he know that he’d taste a honey whose flavor would captivate him so significantly that he wouldn’t be able to get it out of his mind for years to come. Not only would he launch Patagonia Bee Products to share geographically unique “hive to hand” honeys with the world, but in the process, Patagonia Bee Products would be the impetus for the revision of Chilean law to better support the livelihoods of small beekeepers and food producers, as well as providing economically sustainable support for rain forests. All-in-all, this graduate of Little Rock’s Clinton School of Public Service is pretty proud of what can happen when you insist on the highest standards in taste, beekeeping, and personal relationships.

“Hive to Hand”

When I talked with Jacob by phone in Fayetteville, he was anxiously awaiting his next shipment that evening—the first jars to bear new labels. His exuberance shone through in everything he shared. Fascinated by the new-to-me “hive to hand” description, I had to know more about what it means.  

“I made it up to describe our honey! We’ve of course heard ‘farm to table,’ and ‘bean to bar.’ I wanted something quick that accurately described what I see as the role of Patagonia Bee Products—bringing honey from the hive of a beekeeper to the hand of the consumer without much involvement other than jarring and shipping it. Our honey is in the most unmolested, unadulterated form possible.”

For Patagonia Bee Products, what does hive to hand look like in practice?

“Every jar comes from a single beekeeper, preserving the uniqueness of a place and a harvest season. We source from a cooperative, composed of beekeepers committed to high standards. Each takes their honey, when ready, to a small plant registered with the Chilean government, where it is simply placed in a jar. It is not pasteurized, ultra-filtered, or homogenized. Also, nothing is added to it. Many America consumers don’t realize that most of Chile’s honey goes to Europe, which has higher quality standards than the US. The FDA doesn’t regulate honey, and the US accepts what Europe rejects. In the US, to be labeled honey, the product simply has to have pollen in it. Over 3/4 of the honey sold commercially in the US has gone through a process that involves filtering out much of the pollen and adding junk like corn syrup, rice syrup, other stuff that isn’t honey. They aren’t required to put anything on the label besides ‘honey,’ so consumers don’t even know what we’re getting!  

Aside from that, so many of our global food sources depend on bees—they pollinate 1/3 of the world’s food supply. If you’ve heard about the devastation of hive collapse or Colony Collapse Disorder in the US, you may already understand why it is happening, but if not, basically it is because of poor and risky beekeeping standards . . . most commercial beekeepers in the US hire out their bees to pollinate crops and to chase big agricultural crop blooms. Moving bees from California, to Oregon, to Washington, etc. spreads disease among bees. Honeybees are also weakened and even killed by the harsh chemicals that are used on the crops.

In US, the rate of colony collapse is a staggering 50%. With our beekeepers, one or two hives may collapse out of a couple of hundred. Our beekeepers use only organic practices and personally attend to the health of their hives. They never chase pollination, and keep their hives in a single location.

Beekeeping is one of the few ways that makes it profitable to preserve rainforest. Since by preserving the rainforest, we are preserving Earth’s greatest example of biodiversity, this is something to seriously consider.”  

Local Honey Helps Allergies: FALSE!

When Jacob revealed a truth I’ve never doubted as false, I’m floored. “It’s actually a total myth that local honey helps allergies. What is supposed to help allergies is having small doses of local allergens contained in local honey. Bees typically go to brightly colored flowers whereas humans are typically allergic to weeds and grasses. Bees aren’t pollinating weeds and grasses. It doesn’t bear out.” Oh. I see.

Also in health benefit news, Patagonia Bee Product’s Ulmo Honey was declared by an Irish university to have greater antibacterial properties than the previous holy grail of antibacterial and medicinal honeys, Manuka. From New Zealand, the same sized jar of Manuka costs $40–$50, or about 3 times as much as Ulmo, and has long been used as a medical remedy, especially for the healing of wounds. This Irish study revealed Ulmo as having greater antibacterial activity, including against MRSA and E. Coli. Plus, it tastes better.  

Personal Connections Cultivate Fair Trading Practices

Jacob has said elsewhere that as part of his business practices, he considers it “vital to connect with people.” I was curious what personal connections mean to him, and in Chile, whether making them involves speaking Spanish. “I do! That’s part of working with Chilean beekeepers because they don’t speak any English. Patagonia Bee Products is my first excursion into the for-profit world. I’ve previously been with nonprofits. What I wanted to carry through was a model with people at the center. It has been essential to me to build personal relationships with beekeepers. When I go to Chile, I stay with them and their families in their houses. I harvest the honey alongside them. When I return to the US, I do samplings with customers and imagine that as completing the circle—sharing the stories of the honey that are important to all of us for so many reasons.

This also means paying beekeepers a dignified wage, which is higher than fair-trade-established prices for honey in Chile. Fair trade prices are set by the World Fair Trade Organization, which sets prices internationally based on many factors. Before Patagonia Bee Product’s first jar of honey was sold, I met with the beekeepers up front to decide if they wanted to officially have the Fair Trade designation. There were costs to them, and ultimately, they decided it wasn’t worth it, especially since they would be getting wages higher than those set by the WFTO. However, the principles we rely on are similar.”  

What was it like to start a new, international business?

“Patagonia Bee Products was challenging from the start because although I knew I wanted to share this product with the world, I had no business experience and didn’t know where to start. I was so in the dark that I literally got online and Googled ‘beekeepers in Patagonia.’ I was overwhelmed trying to figure out labels and prices. In Fayetteville, there is a company called Startup Junkie, which offers free services to startups, and they helped me make a plan and got me out of my state of complete ignorance. From there, it just took a lot of tenacity. I called the US Embassy and made contacts there.

I set up visits. What took my breath away was the lack of competition and jealousy among the beekeepers. They have a camaraderie and supportive nature, reminiscent of bees working together! It’s really something to emulate, when we realize that we don’t have to undercut our competitors or diminish their work to thrive.

Once we decided to pull the trigger, took a long time to get approval from the Chilean government. They literally had to write legal procedures to help small businesses with the process of exporting, because previously they were forced to sell to huge exporters at reduced prices. So an unexpected, but fantastic, side affect is that this endeavor helped initiate laws that will connect Chilean small business owners more directly to the consumer, and even improve their lives.

Now, it feels so good that the business is self-sustaining and growing. As I try to bring this honey to more people, I just go to store owners and buyers and say, ‘Let me tell you this story.’ As they’re tasting, they realize they are used to all honey tasting the same and this tastes totally different. The honey is so good, and its story is authentic, so it sells itself. People fall in love with it quickly, just like I did, and most find that from then on, no other honey is good enough.”

I, for one, can attest that I’ve been caught creeping down the stairs in the dark for a spoonful of the Ulmo. Tasting what I taste and knowing what I know, I might be willing to sample another of Patagonia Bee Products’ honeys, but it’s hard to imagine myself straying from their hives.   


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Recipe: Raw Honey Roasted Figs

I've never cooked figs before, but I sure do love warm fruit over ice cream...and since my fig tree is bursting with fruit, I figured I'd give it a whirl!  This is a very simple recipe, but served in vintage cocktail glasses makes an impressive dessert.  The best part is that the roasting process creates a sauce perfect for drizzling and serving.  I didn't make the ice cream from scratch...just bought a nice quality "homemade" vanilla at the store, adding to the simplicity of the preparation.

Recipe: Raw Honey Roasted Figs | #figs
  1. Preheat oven to 375
  2. Arrange sliced figs (flesh side up) in a baking dish, just large enough so that there isn't much room between them.
  3. Drizzle with the honey.
  4. Combine lemon juice and vanilla in a small bowl.  Drizzle over the figs.
  5. Top with the sprigs of rosemary, bake for 15 minutes until the juices start to run.
  6. Remove from the oven, and let stand for 5 minutes.  Serve over scoops of vanilla ice cream.
Recipe: Raw Honey Roasted Figs | #figs
Recipe: Raw Honey Roasted Figs | #figs
Recipe: Raw Honey Roasted Figs | #figs
Recipe: Raw Honey Roasted Figs | #figs
Recipe: Raw Honey Roasted Figs | #figs
Recipe: Raw Honey Roasted Figs | #figs
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From the Maker's Mouth: Waxing Kara

As the week comes to a close and we venture out to forage for raw honey and figs, we wanted to share an interview with Kara Brook, the creator of Waxing Kara Honey and honey based body products.  Waxing Kara is one of our newest lines in The Savory Pantry and we are so honored to get a peek behind the scenes of a brand that we so admire.  Turns out, Kara is as lovely as her products and packaging!

From the Maker's Mouth : Waxing Kara |
From the Maker's Mouth : Waxing Kara |

Who is Kara?  I am an artist and I paint with beeswax. More specifically, I paint with encaustic an ancient painting technique that combines beeswax, tree resin and pigment. The idea of a sustainable art play appealed to me, so I started beekeeping for the wax.

How did you get into working with honey and developing honey based products?  I got more honey than wax from my beekeeping endeavors, and began bottling and sharing with friends and family. When I started commissioning exceptional artisans across the country to make small batch body products with my honey, wax and lavender from our farm, I knew that things were about to get very interesting, and they did. I call our premium line of food and body products “Bee Inspired Goods”.

What is it about what you do that you love the most?  I enjoy designing and developing beautiful products that I love to use and share with others.  It’s exciting when I share products with friends, family and customers and they hold it in their hands, take a deep breath and acknowledge the beauty and utility all at once. 

How are your products different than other scrubs, lotions and soaps?  Everything that we sell is small batch, handmade and as organic as we can afford to make it. We don’t use any harsh chemicals, false fragrance or sodium laurel/eth sulfate, all paraben free.

What is your most memorable meal? I was very close with an executive chef from Rehobeth Beach Delaware, then later he moved Washington DC. and lived only about 30 minutes from my home. One evening he told me to invite a few friends over and offered up “lobster three ways” for dinner. He actually prepared this for us right before our eyes, so it was sort of a cooking class in my home. It was very casual and extremely elegant all at the same time. He did this a few more times, once with salmon and another time with steak. Each time I learned more about food in a direction that I had never seen it go in my kitchen! Sadly, he passed away a few years back. I miss him very much.

What is your favorite food or food trend? I am currently eating very healthfully. I just got back from a week away to Deer Lake Lodge where I did an 8 day fast. In getting back to my day-to-day life I am doing all I can to be prepared with whole fresh foods in our home, staying away from gluten, processed foods and sugar. Farm-to-Table and RAW food currently interest me the most. I go out of my way to find and support restaurants that support farmers, and make healthy food. I do it for the health benefits of eating local food and I do it to support local artisans, regardless of where I am visiting.

What's next for Waxing Kara?  I am going to keep on coming up with good ideas to support the bees and at-risk youth. 

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