Jean Paucton, a retired prop man for the Opera Garnier became interested in bees. He studied beekeeping at the Jardin du Luxembourg. The school has been teaching Parisians about hives and honey for 150 years.
Almost thirty years ago, he ordered his first hive. It was delivered to him sealed and full of bees at the Opera Garnier. Jean had intended to take it to his country house north of Paris. He was delayed, so he needed somewhere to put the bees as they will only survive in a sealed hive for about 48 hours.
Jean mentioned his dilemma to the opera house fireman. The fireman had been raising trout in the building’s huge cistern, a firefighting reservoir and the inspiration for the underground lake in ”Phantom of the Opera”. He suggested putting the hives on the roof where the bees wouldn’t bother anyone.
The Bees Move In
M. Paucton put the box on the seventh-floor roof at the back of the building and opened the hive. When he came back to pick it up two weeks later, he found it already full of honey.
”They make more honey here than they do in the countryside,” M. Paucton says.
He decided to leave the hive there and over the years has added more. Jean now tends to five of the wooden box hives on a 30-foot-square roof overlooking the rooftops of Paris.
The 75,000 bees produce more than 1,000 pounds of honey a year. They fly as far afield as the Bois de Boulogne on the city’s western edge about three kilometers away.
”They go to the chestnut trees in the Champs Élysée and the linden trees in the Palais Royal,” says M. Paucton.
Mr. Paucton packages the honey in tiny jars at home, each with a photocopied label that reads, ”Honey harvested from the roof of the Opera of Paris – Jean Paucton.” The 12g jar of golden nectar sells at the opera house’s gift shop and at the gourmet shop Fauchon for €14.50, or about $20. That means it is one of the most expensive honeys in the world.
Due to the concentration of fragrant flowering trees and shrubs, the honey has an intense floral flavour. It’s distinctive taste doesn’t appeal to everyone.
According to the National Beekeepers’ Association, there are more than 300 known colonies in the French capital. You’ll find them on other iconic buildings such as Notre Dame de Paris, the Grand Palais, Musée d’Orsay, Les Invalides and the National Assembly in Paris.