All About Maple!
Here in Maine, the maple trees used to produce maple syrup are the sugar maple and the red maple. Around here 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 sap longer.
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 it. While we almost always have feet of snow in our woods, the sap can run without snow, as long as the other conditions are right.
Here at Schanz Family Maple, we tap around 400 trees. 325 of these are on sap lines that run into a larger "main line." This main line runs on a vacuum pump, carrying the sap right into our sugarshed and emptying it into an 800 gallon stainless steel tank. This tank pumps into a smaller one, that can empty straight into our evaporator. This system means that we can get the sap from tree to evaporator at the turn of a switch! While we still tap some trees the "old-fashioned way," with buckets, we wait until later in the season to tap these trees.
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. That boiling off of water is the ONLY processing sap goes through to become maple syrup. 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. While the lighter grades may look prettier in a bottle, we find many people much prefer the stronger flavor of the darker grades. Our best selling grade is Dark/Robust Flavor. We get by far the most rave reviews about what a great syrup it is.