All About Maple!
How much do you know about maple syrup? It is really a very fascinating product! Read on to learn more...
Here in Maine, the maple trees used to produce maple syrup are the sugar maple and the red maple. Locally the sugar maple is usually referred to as "rock maple" because of the extreme hardness of the wood. The sap from rock maple tends to produce better maple syrup than the red maple due to its higher sugar content, plus its later budding time means it can produce good tasting sap longer. As trees bud, the sap gets a "buddy" flavor, which affects the taste of the maple syrup.
In cold climates, maples store starch in their trunks and roots before winter. In late winter and early spring, to prepare for budding, the tree converts this starch to sugar. The sugar rises through the tree in a fluid called "sap."
The sap runs best when daytime temperatures are around 40-50 degrees, and nighttime temperatures drop below freezing. Wind and sun can also effect how the sap runs. While we almost always have feet of snow in our woods in the spring, the sap can run without snow as long as the other conditions are right.
As of the Spring of 2024, we tap around 1000 trees. Most of these are on "lateral lines" that run into a larger "main line". This main line is connected to a vacuum pump and carries the sap right into our sugar house where it is collected in an 800 gallon stainless steel tank. From here the sap is run through a reverse osmosis machine which concentrates the sugar to about 8%. From the RO machine the sap is pumped up to the "head tank", which is a smaller tank that sits above the evaporator and feeds it a steady amount of sap as we boil. We do have fifty or so trees that we tap the "old-fashioned way," with metal spiles and buckets. Because they are not on a vacuum system, we have to wait a little later in the spring to tap these, and they usually stop producing earlier than the main part of the sugar bush. There is just something about the sound of sap dripping into a metal bucket on a bright sunshiny day that is extra special.
The sap that comes from the maple tree is about 98% water, with only 2% sugar. In order to convert that sap into maple syrup, you need to boil off the water content of the sap until it reaches about 33% water and 67% sugar. As mentioned before, we use the reverse osmosis machine to concentrate it to about 8% and from there our wood fired evaporator takes care of the rest. It takes roughly 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of maple syrup.
Syrup is graded according to color. Lighter syrup tends to have a more delicate flavor, while darker syrup has a more robust flavor. The four classes are Golden, Amber, Dark, and Very Dark. Lighter syrup is usually produced earlier in the season. As the season progresses, the color of the syrup darkens and the flavor intensifies. This happens for multiple reasons. The trees themselves change from the beginning of the season to the end. They go from a state of dormancy to their budding out stage during the season. The flavor of the syrup changes as this process unfolds. Another big factor is the weather. The warmer weather later in the season allows for more microbial activity, which in turn affects the flavor of the finished syrup. While the lighter grades may look prettier in a bottle, we find most of our customers prefer Dark/Robust Flavor syrup, with Amber/Rich Flavor being our second most popular. And we do have a vocal minority who thing the Very Dark/Very Robust is the Very Best. In the end....it is ALL good!