Tuesday, April 20, 2021
Home Eat & Drink Honeygate: Is Slide Ridge Honey Selling a Myth?

Honeygate: Is Slide Ridge Honey Selling a Myth?


SSlide Ridge Honey has been one of Utah’s local food heroes, a genuine mountain honey literally unique to Northern Utah. Honey’s flavor, body and aroma, like wine and cheese, is directly related toterroir–the land it comes from. Honey aficionados prize particular honeys, like New Zealand anuka, Tuscan chestnut, Hawaiian white and Ghanaian honey, because they can only come from one place.

Slide Ridge has been touted as Utah’s elite honey–made by local beekeepers in our high arid mountains. It says so on their website:

“At Slide Ridge, we start with pure, unfiltered raw wildflower honey, produced in our own sustainably managed beehives. Gathered from wildflowers in the pristine, high mountain valleys of Northern Utah, our bees produce a delicately flavored, elite-quality raw honey. From this honey, we produce a rare Honey Wine Vinegar that is a treat to the palette [sic] and the body. Try them both today and you will never settle for second best again.”

But what if it’s not?

Slide Ridge Honey Wine Vinegar sells for $50 a 750-ml bottle. So yes, it’s elite. You can find it at Caputo’s, Whole Foods, Liberty Heights Fresh and in the pantries of many local chefs. But recently, questions have been raised about Slide Ridge.

Matt Caputo was one of the earliest local champions of the honey, the wine and the wine vinegar. I remember going into the downtown store one day and running into Matt. He had that fanatical fire in the eye he gets when he’s excited about a new food, and I had to stop and taste everything. But this week, Caputo’s sister distributing company A Priori sent out a letter to its customers:

“Dear ____________,

At A Priori, we distinguish our product mix by selling the best of the best. Our “Local Gold Standard” collection, of which Slide Ridge was a part, is based on foods that are not only local, but world class. Our focus is on products which are not merely manufactured here, but have ingredients with intrinsic roots to Utah.

From the time we started working with them, Slide Ridge helped us to build a narrative of their product based on their families’ own beehives in Mendon, Utah, and Martin James’ outlier ability to produce one of the highest quality honeys in the world. We developed a story of how their products beautifully conveyed the terroir of Utah’s Cache Valley, etc., etc.”

“Unfortunately, in mid-March, it came to our attention that Slide Ridge has been sourcing Canadian honey to produce at least its Honey Wine Vinegar. While they have tried to put a positive spin on it for us, we have concluded that we cannot do the same. We cannot stand by and knowingly continue to distribute an adulterated product. Once we found out, and after some soul-searching, we determined that it is in the customer’s best interest to know and that it was A Priori’s ethical obligation to keep you informed of such changes, when they occur. “

I called Slide Ridge to hear their side of this story and spoke to business owner Elmer James. He said, yes; Slide Ridge has been buying Canadian honey. “The drought had a tremendous effect on our bees and we’ve had tremendous bee losses. We’ve been buying from other Utah producers and bought all that up; otherwise we would have had to limit production. There’s no way we could produce enough product anyway, we’re in a desert. You got one arm tied behind your back.”

Sounds reasonable. (And sad, if you’re worried about the declining bee population.) But the narrative about the sustainably raised high mountain honey on Slide Ridge’s packaging and website doesn’t say anything about Canadian honey. Or even other Utah honey.

Elmer clarified. “We’ve only used the Canadian honey in the wine vinegar and the Cacysir <honey wine>.” A few hours later he called back to further clarify, “We’ve never used any of the Canadian honey in our products.”

Caputo’s and Slide Ridge are in a contract dispute concerning distribution. They have bones to pick with each other.

But I’m interested in a question that has larger ramifications—for foodies, for health nuts, for environmentalists trying to reduce their carbon footprint, for anyone who finds Slide Ridge’s Utah story compelling enough to pay $50 for a bottle of honey wine vinegar. As all of us become more concerned about where our food comes from and how it was raised and not just how much it costs, we become more susceptible to being duped. Is a product real or fake? Organic or not? I think most of us believe we can safely trust the word of local producers. Our neighbors. So when the question becomes, is it local or not, it gets a little more personal.

This is not a new problem. The French have been accused of substituting Algerian wine for their own. We all know about Ikea’s meatball recall. Kim Angelli, who runs Salt Lake City’s Downtown Farmers Market, has to check up on participating farmers to be sure they’re selling their home-grown produce and not something trucked in from California.

When it comes to honey, there are certain healthful properties attributed to honey that comes from the area you live in. Utahns don’t need to be acclimatized to pollen from Ghana. Or Canada. If you’re trying to be truly conscientious about buying locally for the sake of the environment, it matters whether product is trucked in from another country or harvested up the road.

But it becomes a bigger problem as we place more value on the source of our food. The more we understand about the food we eat, the more complex the ethical questions surrounding it.

When you start out selling a highly specialized and rare artisanal product, you have automatically restricted your business’ growth in advance. Scarcity equals value, just like quality is supposed to. There’s not going to be an ever-expanding supply of high desert Rocky Mountain honey because only so many wildflowers flourish in those growing conditions and that short season. You have no guarantee, or even likelihood, of expanding your product to fill the demand you create.

This is part of what “sustainable” means.

You know it's spring in Utah when cherry blossoms are in full bloom at the @utstatecapitol ⁠🌸😍⁠

Photo by @gravesstuart

Inspired by @oldsaltlake, we're celebrating #throwbackthursday with a favorite snapshot of early 20th century Salt Lake City. 🏖️⁠

Photos shared by @oldsaltlake are inspiring millennials and zoomers decades later with visions of a different city: one with easily accessible public transportation, walkable streets, local businesses (open late) and distinctive architecture.⁠

See more photos at the link in our bio. ⁠

Pictured: Women relax at what is believed to be Saltair Beach, date unknown

Why did Utah's only Titanic passenger not survive her journey?⁠

The descendants of Irene Corbett believe that the 30-year-old teacher sacrificed her life to save others. It's one of the many ways this remarkable figure bucked tradition and forged her own trail.⁠

Read more about Irene at the link in our bio!

One year ago today: a Salt Lake earthquake that even shook Moroni 👼⁠

Photo by @gravesstuart

"We must have done something right, cause you guys kept coming back."⁠

@bluepelatedinerslc, one of Salt Lake's signature spots for everyone from hungover college kids to vegan food lovers, will be closing its doors this May after more than two decades of service. It's the latest casualty in a brutal year for the restaurant industry. ⁠

Head to the link in our bio for a tribute to Blue Plate Diner. (And keep supporting your favorite local restaurants. ❤️)

Tony Caputo, a food evangelist and founding father of today’s SLC food community, passed away last night.⁠

Tony started @caputosmarket in 1997, bringing his passion for the cuisine of his heritage to Utah tables. Most days during the lunch rush you’d find Tony behind the counter slicing meat and cheeses and then, after it wound down, holding court out front. He’d often rush back behind the counter and holler over his shoulder, “you have to try this!" only to return with a sample bite of veiny cheese, a paper-thin leaf of prosciutto or a perfectly crisp amaretti cookie that he’d recently added to his menagerie of taste. For his many contributions to Salt Lake City, we awarded Tony with a Lifetime Achievement Dining Award in 2007.⁠

Today, we're sending love to @caputosmarket and the many people whose lives were touched by Tony. A full tribute is on our website now. ❤️

Why is the Pleasant Grove theme park Evermore suing one of the most powerful women in music? Long story short: a playground for those who would choose lore over folklore is taking on Taylor Swift over the name of her most recent album. Both parties have their reputation on the line in a battle of undercover Swifties and novelty mug disputes. Will Evermore hit the gold rush? Or did they cross the wrong mad woman? The full story is at the link in our bio. ...

Even in the exploration boom of the 1800s, nobody dared to explore the terrain flowing through the Green and the Colorado Rivers.⁠

That is, nobody until Major John W. Powell said the 19th Century equivalent of “Hey man, hold my beer while I try this.”⁠

Read more about his dangerous expedition at the link in our bio!⁠

Photo of Powell’s expedition courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division⁠

A brand new issue of Salt Lake magazine is coming your way! ⁠

We can't wait to share these stories with you. This issue includes our annual Blue Plate Awards celebrating those surviving and thriving in the restaurant biz. Plus, we take a road trip to Wyoming and ask why the only Utah passenger on the Titanic didn’t survive her journey.⁠

A note from our editor Jeremy Pugh, including beautiful tributes to Mary Brown Malouf from our friends in the community, is online now. Read more at the link in our bio ❤️⁠

Subscribers: Look for this issue in your mailbox soon. The magazine will be on newsstands March 1! 📬

Today, we are thrilled to announce the winners of the 2021 Blue Plate Awards! ⁠🎉⁠

These prizes honor the growers, food evangelists, grocers, servers, bakers, chefs, bartenders and restaurateurs who do more than put good food on the table—they make our community a better place to live. This year, just surviving as a local business deserves an award, but each of our Blue Plate winners did more than that. They made us grateful for every person involved in the essential act of feeding us.⁠ 🍽⁠

At the link in our bio, we have the full list of winners, a celebration of feats of COVID creativity and a tribute to restaurants we lost this year. If you’re hungry for more, pick up a copy on newsstands March 1! Plus, check out our Instagram for spotlights on some of the Blue Plate winners. ⁠

This year’s Blue Plate Awards are the first without our beloved Executive Editor Mary Brown Malouf. We dedicate them to her, our town’s biggest food fan, critic and champion. xoxomm⁠ 💙

2021 Blue Plate Award winner: @ricobrandut for Staying in Beansness⁠

Last summer, it seemed that Rico would be another victim of rapid gentrification in Salt Lake. Luckily, Rico was able to find a new home in Poplar Grove and now plans to add even more employees. It’s a last-minute happy ending for a community leader who literally wears his mission on his sleeve, courtesy a tattoo in bright red block letters: “pay it forward.” 💙⁠

2021 Blue Plate Award Winner: @spicekitchenincubator for Keeping the Spice Flowing⁠

This year Spice Kitchen Incubator, already an essential resource for refugees, became, well, even more essential. 💙⁠

2021 Blue Plate Award winner: @thestore_utah for Special Deliveries ⁠

As grocery delivery becomes the new norm, The Store offers a personal touch that only an independent grocer can provide. Last March, high-risk and elderly customers began calling in their grocery lists over the phone, and The Store’s general managers personally delivered food to their homes. 💙⁠

2021 Blue Plate Award winner: @cucinaslc for Preserving Neighborhood Connection⁠

Cucina’s outdoor spaces became a place where the neighborhood could gather safely. Owner Dean Pierose offered free coffee in the mornings and encouraged his regulars to linger and commiserate together, preserving a semblance of society during a socially distanced time. 💙⁠