Maple syrup producers cast eye to universal grading standards

By Bill Toscano, The Post-Star
Posted March 22, 2013, at 3:30 p.m.

This weekend will be especially sweet for maple syrup fans because local producers will host open houses for the annual Maple Weekend events.

A year from now, when they head out again, they may be ordering their Maple Weekend syrup in a whole new way.

New York, Vermont and Maine are the three biggest producers of maple syrup in the U.S., and Canada is the world’s leader. But right now, pancake lovers who want the lightest shade of syrup would order Grade A Light Amber in New York or Maine, Vermont Fancy in that state and Canada No. 1 Extra Light in that country. “We’ve been working on this for more than 10 years,” said David Campbell, who helps run Mapleland Farms in Argyle and is one of 26 members of the board of directors of the International Maple Producers Board. “It’s been moving slowly, but we think we can get it in place for 2014.”

The new system, which the board wants to see used internationally, would have four grades: Grade A Golden, Grade A Amber, Grade A Dark and Grade A Very Dark.

Pam Green, whose family has been sugaring in Poultney, Vt., for two centuries, is an enthusiastic supporter of the new system.

“I am definitely for it, and I cannot wait until they put it in place,” said Green, who runs Green’s Sugarhouse with her husband.

“Consumers buy with their eyes, but they cannot see the maple in the jug,” she said. “Now we will have the description that has an association with the taste. People who know if, say, it’s dark, and a lot of people like a darker taste, like in coffee.

“If you look at our ‘Fancy,’ that’s a term that is familiar to sugarmakers, but not to consumers,” she added, noting that Vermont Fancy is the lightest grade of syrup.

“People always want something that’s ‘fancy,’ that makes them think it’s better. But really it’s the lightest, and if they don’t like it, they might not buy pure maple syrup again.”

The new grading system will also allow producers to sell smaller containers of the darker grades of syrup than now permitted.

“Who wants to buy something that is Grade B anyway?” Green asked. “Now we can say it is dark or very dark.”

Matthew Gordon, director of the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers’ Association, said his group supports the change.

“Our reasoning is that it was created in a collaborative process with other states and provinces and will help us both in the export market but also with national and local sales,” Gordon said. “With so many different systems, removing that layer of confusion will allow us to market and promote our product without also having to explain how our grades compare to New York’s, Canada’s or Maine’s. In addition, we firmly believe that since the new grades will have the color and flavor descriptor, it will alleviate confusion that exists about the grades.”

Helen Thomas, executive director of the New York State Maple Producers Association, agrees on the change.

“We support the concept of a universal standard and are working to ensure that a universal standard is introduced. Look for it to happen in the next year or two,” Thomas said.

The current system also focuses on differences among the various states and Canada when it comes to quality of syrup, and while the new system won’t eliminate that, it may focus the consumers on the quality of pure maple syrup, said another local producer.

“All producers are trying to make the best quality syrup they can,” said Mike Hill, who runs Valley Road Maple Farm in Thurman with his partner, Ralph Senecal.

“I never saw a maple tree that knows whether it’s in Thurman, N.Y., Quebec or Rutland, Vt.,” he said.

“Those are not our competitors. Our competitors are Aunt Jemima and Log Cabin.”

Distributed by MCT Information Services

http://bangordailynews.com/2013/03/22/business/maple-syrup-producers-cast-eye-to-universal-grading-standards/ printed on December 27, 2014