November 16, 2011

Soup to Nuts: Portland business
is a honey of an idea

If you're a fan of the gooey natural sweetener, you'll think Phil and Meghan Gaven's new store is the bee's knees.

By Meredith Goad
Staff Writer

PORTLAND — The air in the kitchen at The Honey Exchange is thick with the earthy, slightly sweet aroma of freshly made honey.

click image to enlarge

Co-owner Phil Gaven explains how The Honey Exchange’s in-store hive works to Helen Kane of Sanford.

Photos by John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

At the honey bar, customers can sample some of the many varieties for sale at the store.

Additional Photos Below


WHERE: 494 Stevens Ave., Portland

HOURS: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday; 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday

INFO: 773-9333;



The Gavens often set out samples of this cake for their customers to try.

"I make it with a different honey every time," Phil Gaven said, "and it really shows off the flavor of that honey."

16 ounces (1.25 pounds) honey

¾ cup vegetable oil

1 cup buttermilk or sour cream

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3 eggs

¾ cup white sugar

3¾ cups all-purpose flour

1½ teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon ground ginger

½ teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees (or 325 convection)

Blend 1½ cups honey, oil, buttermilk and vanilla with a blender or electric mixer.

In a large bowl, whisk eggs and sugar until pale and fluffy.

Add honey mixture to eggs and whisk.

Combine dry ingredients and add to liquid. Beat until well blended.

Pour into a greased and floured bundt pan.

Bake for about an hour, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

Let pan rest for a few minutes, then flip cake over onto a wire rack.

While cake still warm, prick all over with a fork and drizzle the remaining honey over it -- let cool completely before slicing.

In a typical Saturday chore, Phil Gaven is extracting the sticky substance from a beekeeper's hive.

He cuts the wax caps off the honeycomb that the bees have constructed in the hive's frames, then inserts the frames into a centrifuge that spins the honey out. It drips down the sides of the centrifuge and oozes out of a spout into a container.

For this service, Phil and Meghan Gaven, owners of this new honey-centric store on Stevens Avenue, usually get paid in (what else?) honey.

"We keep 30 percent, they take home 70 percent," Gaven said.

The extracted honey winds up on the store's shelves alongside honey the couple has bought from other parts of the country.

At The Honey Exchange, you'll find honeys from all over Maine as well as orange blossom honey from Florida, cotton honey from North Carolina, star thistle honey from Michigan and honey from the New Jersey pine barrens.

"What we've learned in this process of having this store," said Meghan Gaven, "is that most people don't realize that when they see clover honey on the shelf, that means that honey was made from clover nectar. I had a guy today, in fact, say, 'I thought that was a brand.' He had never connected that to a nectar source. If you always buy the same honey, honey always tastes the same."

And that honey you buy at the grocery or drug store may not even be real honey. A recent investigative report by Food Safety News found that many popular brands have been ultra-filtered to have all the pollen removed, in some cases apparently to hide the origin of the product. Other brands have been cut with corn syrup and other sweeteners. (See the story here:

All the honey sold at The Honey Exchange is raw and unfiltered, and each 11/4-pound jar is labeled with the honey's origin. The Gavens have even set up a honey bar so customers can taste the difference between honey from Maine and from Florida, and from honey made in spring versus fall. A light box on one shelf showcases a light-colored spring honey right next to a darker autumn honey. The flavor profile of a honey gets richer as it gets darker.

"This is a spring honey from a hive in Ferry Village, and this is the fall honey from that same hive," Meghan Gaven said. "So the same bees in the same place, just different times of year, made these two different colors and flavors of honey."

A recent selection at the tasting bar included a honey made by a police officer/beekeeper in Wells and a basswood honey from Pennsylvania that is "everything I like about honey but with the volume turned way up," Phil Gaven said. "It's real crystalline and brilliant."

There is holly honey from Florida, and star thistle honey from Michigan blended with lemon and raspberry. The cotton honey from North Carolina is malty and tangy, and good for cooking. The pine barren honey is served with slices of sharp cheddar cheese.

"We think about honey being very sweet, but it's also really very acidic," Gaven said. "The acidity of it just cuts through oily cheese in the most beautiful way. It's a fabulous flavor combination."

The Gavens purchased their first beehive on a lark four beekeeping seasons ago. Phil Gaven, who spent 20 years in the restaurant business, always thought he had to have a big farm and land to keep bees, but then "I realized that you didn't really need that."

(Continued on page 2)

Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors

Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Phil and Meghan Gaven sell lots of items besides honey at The Honey Exchange.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

The Honey Exchange is located at 494 Stevens Ave. in Portland.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer


Further Discussion

Here at we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)



More PPH Blogs