Les Abeilles

Miel de Bruyère Callune

Les Abeilles is a tiny little store perched at the top of the Butte-aux-Cailles, in the 13th arrondissement, and incidently just a skip and a hop from my office (which has, in passing, been trying quite hard to keep me away from my regular blogging schedule, sending me this way and that, thus tragically depriving me of a decent Internet connection in the evening).

As the name implies to the French-friendly ear, Les Abeilles is a beekeeping store, which is unusual enough in Paris. They sell you a certain number of tools and ingredients and foodstuff and vitamins to take care of your beehives, and they themselves actually own and maintain a few in the nearby Kellerman park, which I find utterly fascinating (fume-flavored honey, anyone?). But about apiculture I know next to nothing, so I won’t dwell on that, but will certainly look into it when I get a chance, as this is bound to be the next hip thing to do with your balcony. Won’t my neighbors just love that.

Besides beekeeping gear, and this is the reason why I walked into the store in the first place, Les Abeilles also sells a range of bee-derived products : body care products, gelée royale, propolis (that magic golden stuff that looks like wax and that you’re supposed to ingest in small quantities to strengthen your immune system), and — let’s cut to the chase and talk about what we’re really interested in — honey-based food products.

They have a quite impressive range of different honeys, in small, medium or large jars, produced by bees fed on different kinds of pollen, from flowers or shrubs or trees. You can sample any of them with mini ice-cream spoons, from a tray of jars dedicated to that purpose. In addition to “simple” honeys, they offer spreads that are a mix of honey and nuts, allowing you to start the day with a honey-hazelnut toast for instance — quite the energy boost I’m sure. They also sell nonettes, those small honey cakes filled with orange marmelade or some other kind of jam (quite similar to the mignonnettes I bought in Bourogne), and I remember seeing some bonbons au miel, those little hard candies made with honey, traditionally used as a fine remedy against sore-throats.

One of the honeys caught my eye. It was a miel de bruyère, marked more specifically as “callune” : this is a rarer heather honey, produced by bees fed on a specific kind of heather with pink little bell flowers. Its particularity is to develop very small crystals of sugar : freckles in the pure, liquid gold. The result is unusual and strikingly pretty, especially when held to the light. I asked to have a taste, and was instantly won over : a simple drop of this honey on the tip of your tongue, and your mouth is filled with the multi-layered sweetness of honey, so much more complex that white sugar, a taste of sunny flower fields and cool, shadowy undergrowth, with a subtle hint of bitterness, while you feel, and almost hear, the tiny sugar flakes dissolving against the roof of your mouth.

I got a small jar, fully aware that those fragile little crystals would probably be indiscernible on a toast of bread, but wanting it anyway, a prized item to add to my cabinet de curiosités gustatives.

At that point I spotted a quite large hunk of homemade pain d’épice, the French honey spice cake, and I got a slice of that too. I am particularly fond of pain d’épice, I find it to be the perfect breakfast food — particularly with a cup of tea and, in the winter, a nicely ripe, juicy pear. And this one turned out to be, by far, the best pain d’épice I have ever had in my whole life : fresh, flavorful, and incredibly moist. I’ll definitely go back for more.

And while I was paying for my purchases, I took an interested glance at a leaflet on the counter, vaunting the incredible health-improving and life-lengthening qualities of a certain product. “C’est pour les abeilles *“, said the white-bearded store owner. Oh. Right.

Les Abeilles
21 rue de la Butte aux Cailles
75013 Paris
01 45 81 43 48

* “That’s for the bees.”

  • boreal

    Please promise me you’ll never stop blogging and never stop having adventures like this and sharing them with us…. LOVING IT! Wow, I would go NUTS over a store like that here. How marvelous. Magical. Thank you again :)

  • mare

    hi clotilde!

    it is interesting that you found this place, and what’s more, it is interesting that they keep hives in the park. i read an article in the san francisco chronicle a few months back about urban beekeepers. in s.f. (somewhere…though i’m not quite sure where) one can purchase honey produced in the various micro-environs of the bay area. according to the article, each honey has a really distinct flavor. i suppose this makes sense as there are many different flowering plants and shrubs blooming throughout the year there.

    i adore your site! please continue.

    take care.


  • I’ll be in Paris in Sept. and this is one stop I’ll have to make, being a huge fan of pain d’epice (and frequently stopping by le 13e arrondissement); wonderfully written my dear, thanks as always for sharing

  • Linda

    I’ve read that they keep bee hives on the roof of the Garnier Opera house and sell the honey at Fauchon. There are also some hives in the Luxembourg Gardens. Nothing better than honey on toast in the morning, in my opinion.

  • Matthew

    Could you tell us more about pain d’épice? Is it similar to an English ginger cake (dense and moist)? Perhaps I missed a previous blog.

    Also, I’ve been enjoying your site now for a long while. As an Englishman (living in California) I am interested in you references to drinking tea. Until my late teens my family would spend long summers in Brittany and Normandy and i didn’t get the sense that the French were tea drinkers. Perhaps you family are an anomaly? Once, while visiting Ploermel, a friend asked for tea at the cafe only to gasp in horror when the assistant started make a pot with water from the regular hot tap!! We still smile about that today. She looked at us strangely when we insisted the water should be boiled.

    Keep up the wonderful work!

  • Honey is mainly winter food for me, but, as today the weather’s grey and cool in Milan, I definitely feel like making a visit to my favourite honey shop, on my way home.
    And, dear Clotilde, I love your Parisian itineraries so much I thought you might set up a blog category for those entries – you know, your favourite Paris food stops (shops and reastaurants). You’re really building a fine personal, carefully chosen town guide!

  • Michelle

    Oh, my! I love bees and their hives.
    It seems to me I’d just read about hives in New York on rooftops where a man comes around and takes care of them for you. That sounds ideal! Count me in.

  • Matilda

    Hi Clotilde,

    The New York Times Food section had an article about a New York chef who kept bees on his balcony and harvested the honey. He too was of the opinion that the flavour of honey was more complex and preferable to that of white sugar. Below is what I could find in the NYT archives:

    June 30, 2004, Wednesday

    THE CHEF: PETER HOFFMAN; Ducks and Bees in Harmony


    “You know there’s a chef living in the building when homemade pancetta dangles in the bike room and a prosciutto-packed wine shed crowds the basement. Good thing for Peter Hoffman, his co-op board is chef-friendly: they even let him keep bees on the roof. … ”We owe them some honey,”…

    There were also 2 tasty looking duck recipes included in the article, which I kept (of course, being a recipe hoarder): Salt-Baked Duck Breasts With Agrodolce Onions and Sweet and Spicy Duck Legs. They look somewhat involved and time-consuming, but I’m always game for a new complicated duck recipe (mmm, duck…). I can email them to you if you like.

  • Matilda

    Oh, by the way, is there any truth to a bee/honey crisis in the south of France? I heard that the number of bees were dwindling steadily (some beekeepers blamed this phenomenon on non-organic farming practices) and beekeepers were not able to keep up with the demand, thus imports of honey were increasing. I read this a year or 2 ago…

  • Josie

    Mmm, I’m craving that spice cake. I wish I could find such products here!

  • kelli ann

    i was just going to post about the NYT article! darn and double-darn!! as a fresh convert to all that is “slow”, i find it so exciting to read about activities such as bee keeping & roof gardening in urban spaces. this has been our 2nd week of organic CSA baskets in Montreal, and I’m itching to make a batch of dilly beans with the sprigs of dill in it!!

    knitting, and moving, and generally slowing down,

    kelli ann

  • See, the problem here is that your entries sound so lovely not only because of your wonderful prose but also because you sprinkle French through your posts.

    Somehow telling the tale of a late night drive to Nick Tahou’s for garbage plates just doesn’t have the same ring.


  • Alisa via Jean-Yves

    Jean-Yves had just heard on the radio (french radio) that the bees and thier honey, are actually healthier in Paris, than in the large agricultural areas of France due to the pestisides that are increasingly used. The pollen and nectar gathered in Paris is pestiside free, resulting in real organic honey and healthier bees.

    There is a very large “ruche”, bee hive facility, in Parc Georges Brassens, in the 15th. You can obtain a great bee/honey education there, and it is very cool too.

  • Boreal – Thanks for the kind, heart-warming words, I’m glad you liked this post!

    Mare – Indeed, honey can have very different flavors depending on what the bees feed on, and the time of harvest too. This is why it’s fantastic to have the opportunity to taste several!

    Daniel – Do let me know what you think of their pain d’épice if you get to try it!

    Linda – Oooh, I didn’t know about the opera bees, this must be one melodious honey, and I bet it comes at quite a price… :)

    Matthew – I’m not sure how to define pain d’épice : it’s a dense cake flavored with honey and spices (with ginger, but also cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and sometimes aniseed). It’s supposed to be a bit on the dry side, not buttery, a bit like bread. Not sure about the English ginger cake.

    And yes, I suppose my family drinks more tea than the rest of the French people put together! :) They’re very particular about the tea they drink, the way the tea is brewed, the temperature of the milk, and the kind of teacup they drink it from! They would have simply fainted in that Ploermel café! :)

    Rose – Good suggestion! I guess the two categories “shopping bag” and “restaurants” sort of do that already, but there are also addresses from other cities in there, so you’re right, I could gather the strictly Parisian ones in the same place!

    Matilda – Thanks a lot for the article, I’d missed it! As for the bee crisis, I’ve never heard of that, but then again I’m not your apiculture specialist. If I hear anything I’ll let you know.

    Josie – I’d like to try and make my own one of these days, then you’ll have a recipe to try yourself!

    Kelli Ann – Never heard of dilly beans, what are they?

    Kris – Thanks for the very kind comment, I sometimes wonder if the French words are a good thing, or if they just confuse the non-French speaking readership!

    Alisa – Fascinating, I had thought of the evil “gaz d’échappement”, but not of the lack of pesticides. That beehive thing at the park sounds like a great place to take Maïa — maybe you already have?

  • Alisa

    Cotilde, we have taken Maïa, and many others. Actually, mostly adults! The little building is open on many weekends, and you can go in, talk to the bee-keepers, see the insides of the hives….I’m telling you, VERY Cool! The parc is one of the most wonderful parks in Paris, I think, and a bit of secret. Probobly due to the location. But for us, it’s just a 7 minute walk. There is so much there, that is worth checking out. AND every weekend there is a charming marche de livres, often with great people watching oportunities. Last and certainly not least, one of the first Boulangerie Poilane is right there, as well.

    We must organize an outing together – with dinner to follow? Whadyathink?

  • Oh, I’d like to go to that parc! Beekeeping is actually one of those rare agricultural things you can do in an urban centre (that and rooftop/balcony blitz gardening). I took an urban beekeeping workshop in Toronto and gained total respect for bees. They’re complex creatures and the whole process is so holistic, almost spiritual. Like ants they have an entire social hierarchy. Ah, tending your bees on your balcony in Paris — too much! I love the eccentricity of it but also that it’s a practice that has been around since medieval times. Great post. Enjoy your honey. Bon weekend.

  • EMDB (Erika)

    Clotilde, there’s a wonderful book by a woman named Sue Hubbell, who decided to keep bees as a third or fourth career– the book is a called A Season of Bees, and it’s wonderful in terms of teaching about apiculture and living with the seasons, as well as Larger Life Lessons. It, and all her books, about life, areas of natural science she’s interested in, and living in the country, are super. They’re all available on Amazon US.

  • Erika – I think you mean “A Book of Bees” (“A season of bees” is an entirely different fiction book if I recall properly as well as “the Secret life of bees” and others, bees seem to be all the rage!) and yes Sue Hubbell moved to the Ozark Mountains and wrote all about bees and beekeeping for those interested.

  • Alisa – I’d love to check this out with you, let’s arrange it!

    Daphne and Erika – Thanks for the book recommendation, it sounds very interesting. I’ll try to find it.

  • kelli ann

    dilly beans are “what you do with aging garden beans that have gotten too big to eat in the normal fashion.” i guess it helps if you like dill pickles (as i do, but have found that not everybody is crazy about them…)

    you start by packing sterilized jars with beans that have been cleaned & trimmed, adding 1 clove garlic, 1 head dill & 1 small chili pepper to each jar (my recipe suggests an addition of 1 grape leaf per jar too but i have never put any in…) and leaving 6mm headroom at the top of the jar…

    and pour over the raw beans the following mixture:

    (proportions for 6 1-litre jars)
    Heat the following to a boil:

    3 1/4 c water
    3 1/4 c white vinegar
    6 tbsp salt

    pour over the beans in the jars, leaving 6 mm headroom. put the lids on the jars & process (cover jars with boiling water for 10 minutes).

    it takes about a week for the flavours to develop. shoud keep indefinitely, but opened jars must be refrigerated.

    a little “something sour” for the beginning of a meal!

    i continue to enjoy your blog, and have to thank you for mentioning trish deseine – have made a number of her recipes & enjoy their freshness & simplicity.

  • i made pain d’epice a few weeks ago from a recipe i found in “The Breads of France” by Bernard Clayton. an almost identical one was also in “Chez Panisse Desserts”.
    i found my results to be very similar to an american gingerbread, except that the pain d’epice was made with both rye and white flours and used honey instead of molasses. my recipe had ginger (i used both powdered and grated fresh), cloves, cinnamon, and aniseed as spices. it was quite dense and very good with tea, indeed. if it is tightly wrapped and refrigerated, it is supposed to keep quite well–if you can resist eating it!

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