False Start

Thanks to everyone who entered our draw for tickets to THE FAMILY OF THE FOREST, screening March 3 and 4th as part of this year’s Kingston Canadian Film Fest, and congratulations to Sandra R for being the lucky winner.  Remember, we’ve also got a $100 gift card for the farm up for grabs to attendees at the screenings!

Well, we were all very hot to trot but maple season is decidedly *not* in full swing in this part of the world yet.  Looks like it may be a couple of weeks even.  It’s not something you can really push, and those without frost proof sugar houses and sap storage will now have big blocks of ice to deal with when the season resumes. 

Early runs of maple produce some of the lightest coloured syrup of the season and its relative rarity and delicate taste makes it sought after, and of the highest grade.  In Quebec, where syrup is a supply managed commodity like milk and eggs, and the Federation is the only buyer, Golden grade syrup fetches the highest price. 

The gradual darkening of syrup over the season is caused largely by microbial contamination of lines and equipment, so being rigorously clean has been the traditional way to keep syrup as light as possible.  Farmers being farmers, syrup producers found an interesting hack to keep syrup light.  They learned that by injecting air directly into the flue pan while boiling will dramatically lighten all but the darkest syrup.   Just make sure to turn your tractor off outside where the air intake is – or your syrup will taste like diesel fumes!

And so when I was in Quebec last May for the equipment company we work for, I was sort of startled, but not surprised, to see that almost all of the syrup I saw was bright gold, almost the colour of apple juice.  So, to overcome this hack, the Federation can no longer rely on colour as the primary indicator of quality, but now takes the actual *taste* of the syrup into consideration when calculating payment to producers.

Like wines and cheeses, no two batches of syrup are alike and if you really swirl the stuff around in your mouth, you can taste a whole lot going on in there, from the start to the finish, mouth feel, aroma and so on.  So people like light syrup, some of you are crazy about the dark stuff.  I tend to prefer mid season syrup when the vanilla flavour is up and the real “maple” is starting to creep in.  Sometimes, maple syrup just doesn’t taste right, and it can happen at any time in the season, for reasons both within and beyond a producer’s control.

Now then, who decides what tastes good?  Well, maple sommeliers of course!  Only in Quebec…  What’s most interesting about this though, is that it has spurred a great deal of research (none of which I can read, because it’s all in French) into the why and how of what gives maple its myriad of subtle flavours, so that producers can make the most of their forest resource.  They’ve investigated and found that variables in sap collection and storage, boiling techniques as well as hygiene all can have strong influence on the end product.  Perhaps most surprising to me was the revelation that ageing sap (under proper conditions), as well as not sterilizing your collection mainlines will *enhance* the syrup’s flavour.  Microbes for the win!  Like wine or cheese once again, it’s human, biotic, and abiotic factors that all impart distinct flavours.

We’re looking forward to maple getting underway, and invite you to come out and check things out once we get rolling.  Especially if you’ve never seen it before, it’s well worth the drive.  Call ahead to see if we’re boiling: you’d be welcome around the evaporator.

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