Changes to the Face of Maple Syrup in Vermont
Like cherries are to Michigan and oranges are to Florida, maple syrup is to Vermont without question. Based on information released by the Department of Agriculture for the 2014 syrup season, Vermont is easily the front runner for production of maple syrup in the U.S. Vermont produced around 1.3 million gallons of syrup. Vermont also has made its mark as a global supplier by producing 5.5% of the world’s supply of maple syrup. This is an amazing feat for a state that is ranked the 7th smallest based on square mileage and with a population of only around 620,000 people. There are almost more cows in Vermont than people. So, yeah… Maple syrup is an important industry for the state, and there has become a deep, enriched culture around maple syrup production or what Vermonters call “sugarin’.” Have you ever tried “sugar on snow?” If you are from out of state, I doubt it. But ask a true Vermonter, and it’s a ritual every year.
In 2014, Vermont and its legislature officially adopted a new grading system for maple syrup to come into effect in 2015. The new grading system will put the U.S. and Canada on the same system. This may sound odd, but the grading system for maple syrup is highly government regulated in Vermont. The maple sugar industry is the second largest industry in for the State next to dairy production, and that label of “Pure Vermont Maple Syrup” has become an important state brand in and of itself. So, it is not surprising that the State requires uniformity and consistency on one of its brands and biggest commodities.
The old system of grading was adopted by the Vermont Legislature in the 1980’s, making it around 30 years old. It was divided into three kinds of maple syrup grades based on the amount of light transmittance through the syrup: Grade A, Grade B, and Grade C. The light transmitted through the maple syrup corresponds directly to the intensity of maple flavor. The lighter the color the more delicate in maple flavor. The darker the color, the more robust in flavor.
Grade A had three subcategories based on the color and taste; Grade A Fancy, Medium, and Dark. The Fancy offered a very light golden color and the lightest of the maple flavor. It is often referred to as the extra virgin olive oil of maple syrup. This syrup is made from the first maple sap that starts to run during the beginning of the syrup season when the tap lines are clean without any maple resin buildup. As resin builds up through the season, the sap gets darker in color and more maple in flavor and is used in making all the other grades.
Grade A Medium Amber was the next subcategory; this is what most people use for “table syrup”—the syrup consumers put on their pancakes and waffles. It is more amber in color and maple in flavor. We finally end the Grade A’s with Grade A Dark Amber. As you can probably digress, this syrup was darker in color and more robust in flavor.
Grade B refers to a very dark syrup with a strong maple flavor. While the quality of grade B syrup is just as high as the grade A’s, most people used grade B for cooking just because the flavor was so strong. However, if you are visiting a true Vermonter, it wouldn’t be uncommon for them to have that on the table for breakfast.
Lastly, there was grade C- commercial grade. This was a grade of maple syrup that the legislature felt should not be sold for retail purposes and could only be sold for commercial use in 5 gallon buckets. It was made from the last sap of the trees and lacked consistency in flavor. The Legislature was worried each batch of grade C could vary too much from sugar house to sugar house and that consumers would not get a consistent product each time they bought it. Many Vermont sugar makers felt this to be appropriate; they were concerned that people who bought this product would not have a good experience and may think that “Pure Vermont Maple Syrup” was off flavor, dark, and inconsistent.
Under the new grading system, all the former different grades sold in Vermont are Grade A with sub-categories. No longer is there a Grade B or Grade C. All that has changed is a shuffle of what percentage of light transmittance identifies each new sub-category.
First, is “Grade A: Golden: Delicious Taste.” This is the exact equivalent of the former Grade A. Fancy. While the name has changed, it is the same product for light transmittance and flavor profile. The legislation even allows syrup companies to put on the label that it is the same product as the old Grade A Fancy.
The next two grades were created by making two combinations from three of the older grades. There is “Grade A: Amber: Rich Taste.” This is a combination of the old Grade A Medium Amber and Grade A Dark Amber. Then, there is “Grade A: Dark: Robust Taste.” This is a combination of a Grade A Dark Amber and Grade B syrup.
Finally, there is “Grade A Very Dark: Strong Taste.” This is a curious syrup because this is the equivalent of the former Grade C, which at one point was not to be sold for anything other than commercial use. Many Vermont sugar makers did not want this grade to be allowed under the new system for the same reasons as mentioned above. However, during the negotiations for the new grading system, Canada was really pushing to allow Grade C to be sold. Vermont finally allowed it as a compromise for a uniform system between the two countries.