Thursday, October 1, 2020

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.

Last night’s vigil for Breonna Taylor. ...

Deep breath in. Deep breath out.
Have a peaceful Tuesday evening ☮️

Everyone could use a breath of fresh air! 🌞⁠

Be sure to follow social distancing rules on the tails. 🌲 Check the link in bio to read our convo with the Executive director of the @mtntrailspc foundation, Charlie Sturgis, about being part of the covid-19 solution. ⁠

Be gentle with one another, Salt Lake ❤️

Our September-October issue is on stands now! ⁠

Salt Lake magazine has traditionally devoted its September-October issue to travel, describing trips to destinations all over the world. This year, confined by COVID, we’re looking closer to home. ❤️⁠

Stay well and be sure to pick up our latest issue or subscribe to our magazine through the link in bio!


Happy Monday 🏞
Who else is dreaming of the weekend? 😴

“The power of the people is always stronger than the people in power." - Angela Johnson⁠

Check the link in bio to read our Q & A with protest organizers. ⁠

Photo credit: Max Smith @phhhhhhhhhhhotos⁠

It's getting HOT in here! 🌞 Check out our list of the best swimming spots in Utah to cool down at! Link in bio. ⁠

Have a safe and responsible weekend, Utah! Oh and P.S. Wear a mask ❤️⁠

📸: Photo courtesy of Utah Office of Tourism⁠

Something fishy is happening on the eastern edge of the Jordanelle Reservoir... ⁠

A municipality is attempting to annex unincorporated land across a county line without that county’s approval. If this sounds like madness, that’s because it is. Read the full story though the link in bio. ⁠

📸 Photo courtesy of: Utah Office of Tourism

Summertime slush! Soft cold slurpy sweet treats- the classic seasonal delight. 🍧⁠

Here’s where to get the best and how to make them yourself, check the link in bio! 🍭

We're a little red rock crazy this weekend if you couldn't tell. (But how could we not be!)⁠

🏜️ Check out 3 pup friendly hikes in our beautiful Moab 🐶 Link in bio! Happy Hiking! ⁠

📸: Utah Office of Tourism