Executive Chef Matt Green of Reserve Wine and Food in Grand Rapids usually recognizes beekeeper Larry Hasselman when he arrives each week to deliver his honey.
Hasselman, owner of Hasselman’s Pure Michigan Honey of Fremont, frequently buzzes into the parking lot in his yellow Camaro, with its yellow-striped, custom leather seats.
Green says he looks forward to the visits. “He’s always got a joke or two for me,” he says of the beekeeper.
Hasselman may be lighthearted in his delivery, but he is serious about his honey. What began as a hobby 37 years ago blossomed into a “backyard” business producing seven to eight tons annually, even as he worked days for Muskegon County Sewage Treatment.
“I always say it’s the hobby that got out of hand,” says Hasselman, now retired from the county.
His hives — all 1,100 of them — are strategically placed throughout Newaygo County and his honeybees gather nectar from basswood (known as “bee trees”), white Dutch clover, alfalfa and wildflowers. Hasselman says basswood were planted in his township after the lumbering era, and its mineral-rich, stronger flavor melds nicely with alfalfa, which adds bulk, a light flavor and light color. Popular white Dutch and sweet clovers, used for hay 60 to 80 years ago, fill the pastures and white Dutch adds light color and mild honey flavor — “second best,” Hasselman notes, after basswood.
His flavorful blend contrasts sharply with what he calls “supermarket honey: a super-filtered, super-heated honey from unknown flower sources and countries of unknown origin.” The high temperatures evaporate or volatize the oils during processing, he explains, so that “all you’re getting is sweet.”
Hasselman is proud that he heats his honey to just 120 degrees and is state-licensed and inspected , unlike many small honey operations exempt under Michigan’s Cottage Food Law.
I always say it’s the hobby that got out of hand.
— Larry Hasselman
In the kitchen at Reserve, Green uses Hasselman’s “robust” honey in his recipes including crème caramel (caramel custard) and glazed pork belly. He also serves it with a tray of blue cheeses, to help “mellow (their) sharpness and acidity,” and sells bottled honey.
Five years ago, Roger Bonga, winemaker at Cascade Winery in Grand Rapids, wanted to buy local honey to make mead. He switched from brand names to Hasselman’s. Cascade’s meads recently received gold medals at the Michigan Mead Cup.
“His honey adds the perfect aroma and taste to our meads,” Bonga says.
Vander Mill Cider Mill and Winery also uses Hasselman’s honey in fermented cider-and-honey beverages known as cysers (“Doom” and “Puff the Magic,” the latter a collaboration with New Holland Brewing).
Hasselman’s bottled honey is distributed in markets and, if you call ahead, is available for sale at his Fremont “Honey House.”