The Grapevine: Maple Syrup

March 28, 2011 § Leave a comment

Westfield Heritage Village, photo:

Westfield Heritage Village, photo:

Last Friday on the Grapevine: After Alex reminisces about hanging out at a sugar shack in Quebec as a teenager, drinking her first Molson Export, she speaks with Peter Lloyd from Westfield Heritage Village about maple syrup.

Every spring since 1995 Westfield has done a maple syrup demonstration. They demonstrate maple syrup-making methods of Canada’s First Nations, 19th century pioneers and from modern times.

Here’s a taste of the show:

Alex: “In terms of more modern maple syrup production, [what does the industry look like]?”

Peter: “In Ontario it has becoming sort of a… boutique. We go in for the smaller operations, but we have good marketing and handsome labels. [With] the whole farm market resurgence and that kind of thing, small maple syrup makers are able to make some money. They’re getting smart too, they’re forming co-operatives. The capital investment in modern evaporators and water filtering stuff is pretty heavy, but if you go in togheter with a group of people, and transport your raw sap to a single location, suddenly you’re making money. So even if you only have a couple thousand trees, you get together with some other guys and you have sap from 20,000 trees coming together in one place, you’re a money maker. A good example is in Grimsby Smokey Kettle, that’s a group of people who are sharing hardware and making quite a good go of it.”

Alex: “In terms of size of productions, I imagine that there is some type of industrial [maple syrup production]?…What about quality?”

Peter: “…They’ve been trying to make artificial maple flavour for a long time… but it’s no good… because there are too many factors, too many different little flavour chemicals going on so it’s a real stew of all these different things… if you get in and out of the pot really fast, you don’t get the whole sweet, you get a small fraction of the possible flavours. That’s the really modern syrup that you buy, the President’s Choice Ultra Light that you get at Fortino’s, it’s really sweet and it’s 66% sugar but the flavour is gutless, and the flavour is gutless because it hasn’t been in the pot long enough for the flavours to open up. So this is where the Ontario boutique comes in, if you do it slower, and you start thinking more like you’re making wine, you can actually aim for the broad flavour by doing things a little differently. Now you might not be as efficient in your fuel use, you might not be as efficient in your production, but you’ll get a premium price because your maple syrup is going to be dynamite. So the giant factory maple syrup, they can crank it out at high speed, but it has a narrower flavour… it’s like the Coors Light of maple syrup.”

Alex: “We just had John from Nickelbrook a couple of weeks ago…”

Peter: “It’s a similar range of styles [mainstream beer vs. craft beer] you’ve got the giant tank, mass production stuff, syrup-wise it’s all 100% from a maple tree, it’s the real deal, but the mechanism by which it’s produced limits it in a way. It’s the very same thing.”

Listen to the whole show by going to CFMU and searching “The Grapevine.” Listen to show “25-03-2011.”

Jesse and Melanie from Homemade Crackers just visited a sugar bush too! Check out their post. The pictures are stunning.

Melanie wrote about how labour-intensive maple syrup is, and said:  “I used to feel that maple syrup was a bit expensive, but next time I pick some up, I’m going to feel like I’m greatly underpaying.” After listening to Peter talk about the amount of sap required to boil down into syrup and the chemistry behind it, I agree with Melanie!


If you want to learn more about maple syrup but you missed the festival at Westfield, check out Elmira’s Maple Syrup Festival, coming up on April 2.


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