There’s a sweet buzz in Lovell, Wyoming, called Queen Bee Gardens, a company specializing in honey-centric candy, that foodies should definitely check out.
Where is Lovell? It’s a little town (population 2,360) just east of Yellowstone National Park, about 45 miles northeast of Cody. On a recent Wyoming trip, RFT Editor Anne Weaver and I drove out of our way to taste what Queen Bee Gardens has to offer–and it was a sweet surprise.
Queen Bee Gardens is a small, family-owned and –operated confectionary business that makes all types of candies sweetened with honey. They produce hand-crafted, hand-dipped honey pralines, honeymoons (“turtle” candies), truffles, bark, haystacks, pretzels, and marshmallows. And they make it all with their own special honey.
What makes their honey unique is the bees, smaller-than-average critters called Little Johnnies. Years ago, Clarence and Bessie Zeller started selling honey to support their young family. The bees were descendants of wild bees Clarence’s father had collected from trees near the Shoshone River. Now these aren’t gentle, docile little honeybees. These tough little guys are mean and are said to sting just for the fun of it. But they also produce some of the mildest, smoothest honey you’ll ever taste, perfect for candy making.
In 1976, Clarence’s three grown sons decided to try to make a go of it in their hometown of Lovell by using this special honey to make candy from an old family recipe from Bessie’s ancestors in Scotland. Honey pralines and Queen Bee Gardens were born. Since then, the family has expanded to 60 different candies and they ship their confections throughout the U.S. All of their candy is characterized by a deep, rich, not-overly-sweet flavor and complexity that comes from the honey. In addition to the naturally sweet honey, none of their candies have any waxes or preservatives.
“Honey is our first ingredient,” says grandson Jason, working behind the counter at their store and factory in downtown Lovell. “Our pralines are 65% honey; our English toffee is 42% honey; and our honey truffles have 11% honey.”
Queen Bee’s pralines were their first and continue to be their most popular Queen Bee Gardens honey candy. Instead of the patty-style pralines popular in the south, Queen Bee makes chewy little dollops of soft praline wrapped in cellophane. The original Pecan Pearl (the #1 seller) has a buttery flavor and a deep, rich pecan taste with just enough nuts to give the candy a satisfying chewiness. The Almond Coconut, with little bits of coconut, has a distinct taste of the tropics in the same buttery, honey base. The Honey Pralines offer the deliciousness of the honey praline without nuts. And Creamy Fudge is a nice chew with just a hint of chocolate flavor.
You’re sure to find a honey praline flavor you like. In addition to those we tried, Queen Bee Gardens offers Beehive Blend, Caramel Apple, Caramel Kisses, Cinna-Honey, Hawaiian Berry, The Mint, and, for those who like a sweet-hot candy, they even make a Chipotle Praline.
It was Queen Bee Gardens’ line of chocolate candies that surprised us the most. Those of you who read realfoodtraveler.com know that in addition to being the editor of realfoodtraveler.com, I’m also the author of The Chocolate Lover’s Guide to the Pacific Northwest. RFT Editor Anne Weaver was one of the central reviewers on that book. We know a thing or two about great chocolate candy. We never expected chocolate candy sweetened with honey would be so delicious, but Queen Bee’s chocolates are just that.
They start with good quality Guittard chocolate (dark or milk) that’s rich with a nice melt and smooth mouth feel. Their truffles are big, about half the size of a golf ball, and their ganache fillings are soft with a nice depth of flavor and a sweetness that has no sharp edges. Their Peanut Butter Truffle has a pronounced peanut butter flavor and the peanuts add a nice textural element. Their Coconut Almond Truffle is a pleasant combination of flavors with small chunks of almond and bits of chewy coconut in a rich chocolate center. The Chocolate Walnut Truffle is stuffed with fresh walnuts. The White Chocolate Raspberry Chocolate, their “ivory chocolate,” though infused with real raspberries, isn’t as successful as the truffles made with dark or milk chocolate.
Their Milk Chocolate English Toffee was tasty too. Both Anne Weaver and I are dark chocolate fans, but the milk chocolate has a softer flavor than their dark chocolate and enabled us to really taste the rich honey in the toffee.
Real Bottom Line: While there are plenty of fine confectioners, Queen Bee Gardens’ honey-centric candies are unique, handcrafted, and not-too sweet. In addition to a rich, complex flavor, their candies’ are sweetened with honey that many health authorities say is better for you than other sweeteners. If you’re looking for something deliciously different, we recommend trying Queen Bee Gardens’ products. It’s honeylicious! — Review by Bobbie Hasselbring, RFT Editor