Angelos Pitsikalis, beekeeper from Kostos, producer of “Ek Paktias” honey honoured with the Great Taste award for consecutive years since 2016.

Argyris Loukis, beekeeper from Kamari with his “Paros Honey” that won last year its first Great Taste award.

Thyme honey of the Cyclades

Interview: Angelos Pitsikalis and Argyris Loukis

A gift of Nature

Food of the gods and humans, a source of excellent nutrients, a product of the wondrous bee society that makes up a complete therapeutic treatment for the body. Thyme honey is undoubtedly the gold of the Cyclades!

Cycladic thyme honey is a well-sought-after product that is painstakingly produced in adverse conditions… Beekeepers labour and toil away at their craft but the final product rewards their effort –and our anticipation. A nutritional miracle with restorative and antiseptic properties, it is rich in trace elements (iron, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, calcium) and nutrients, and has a high content of fructose, vitamin A, beta-carotene, vitamin B complex and minerals.
Angelos Pitsikalis and Argyris Loukis, two award-winning professional beekeepers on our island, talk about the special conditions in which beekeeping in the Cyclades is practised, their challenges, successes and long-term plans.

What makes Cycladic beekeeping so different from that practised in other parts of Greece?
Α.P.: Beekeeping in the Cyclades is different compared to other regions of Greece due to the local climate. Rainfall is usually sparse, with a few exceptions in certain years. As a consequence, vegetation is scarce, so, for example, in the season when the bees harvest pollen from thyme, almost no other flowering takes place, which results in a higher proportion of pollen grains, that is, the honey produced contains more thyme than other flowers.
Α.L.: In the Cyclades, we experience very special living conditions whereby a disadvantage can also be an advantage. The scarcity of the flora inevitably leads bees to the thyme. So, we come up with outstanding thyme honey varieties, which take a great deal of effort to produce both on the bees’ part and on ours.

What special challenges does a beekeeper face on Paros?
Α.P.: Beekeepers on Paros, and on the islands in general, are faced with the problem of not being easy to move their bees to other locations to graze or overwinter, or collect other varieties of honey than the ones their own areas produce. This difficulty arises from the high cost of transporting the bee colonies outside the boundaries of the island, as well as from the impossibility of sending them unaccompanied to another island or to mainland Greece. As a result, local beekeepers can produce one or two varieties of honey, depending on the year, instead of five or six, which makes the increase of the final price of their product imperative so that they can make a living.
A.L.: Wind and water scarcity are the most serious challenges. What troubles the bees, also troubles their keepers. Honey is produced through toil and exertion out of one and only one harvest. If the thyme honey harvest does not go well, there are no alternatives. In mainland Greece, one can have high expectations from the blossoming of other plants as well. Here, honey production is a sort of “monoculture”.

What is the challenge posed by the increased demand for the product and your receiving the International Great Taste Award distinction in 2021?
Α.P.: We have been honoured with the Great Taste award for consecutive years since 2016. This has qualified us for yet another award, that of Great Taste Producer, a distinction that acknowledges the quality consistency of a product. Following the first awards, we did feel some pressure from the rise in the demand of honey from consumers but, unfortunately, it’s not us who can increase the produce, but the bees. This is something we have actually achieved by increasing the number of bees we own so that we can serve all of our customers. Our goal is always the quality of our honey to be the highest, so in a year of lower production, such as last year, we have to service our customers with reduced quantities compared to those required by them.
Α.L.: I’m a novice beekeeper. The award was a moral reward for me first. It’s a lonely and demanding job. You need someone to tap you on the back and say “You’re doing well.” as you go through many disappointments. Otherwise, until August, when I harvest again, it often happens that my shelves are empty since demand exceeds production. But this is how things work –honey in the Cyclades is a limited-edition product.

What is your immediate business plan for the coming seasons?
Α.P.: What we have already started is the construction of a space visitable by the public that will include the honey laboratory, where its extraction and packaging takes place, warehouses, the natural cosmetics laboratory, as well as a venue for workshops, training sessions and presentations for those who are interested in expanding their knowledge on bees and their society. We estimate that this space will have been ready by the end of 2024.
Α.L.: Melissi Delicatessen on Naoussa ring road is our steady business project largely based on the family owned and operated apiary. This is where the entire produce is absorbed – without being enough most of the times. Otherwise, I try every year to steadily increase the number of hives with all due respect for the bees’ society and nature. Our philosophy, in short, is: make honey better, keep bees happier.

Which bee-like virtues would you like to adopt as personality traits?
Α.P.: Is there anything that one wouldn’t want to adopt from the community of bees? Besides, it is known to be one of the most perfectly organized societies on our planet. The discipline and teamwork their society operates on is something that everyone should try to imitate in their life. This could make us better not only as human beings but also as a society.
Α.L.: Bees are my great teachers. Discipline, hard work, teamwork, empathy, self-sacrifice… If you could emulate half of these qualities, our world would be much better!