About Pure Vermont Maple Syrup
The Sugaring Season
In the State of Vermont, maple syrup production is really something quite special. Vermont is the largest producer of maple syrup in the USA and was the first state to mandate by law that its syrup be all natural, free from any preservatives or additives to ensure absolute quality and purity.
Maple syrup producers have a special language. Syrup is produced in late winter and early spring in "sugaring season" as the days warm above freezing and nights remain cold. Sap starts to "run" as freezing draws moisture through the root system and thawing pumps sap up through the trees plumbing. A stand of sugar maple tree is called a "sugar bush."
Sugar Maple sap is hard to distinguish from water in small containers and has a sugar concentration of about 2% by weight. It varies from tree to tree, sugar bush to sugar bush and early to late season anywhere from 1% - 4%. On average, it takes 40 gallons of sap to make on gallon of syrup. Sugar density, variation in the natural enzymes and other trace natural elements are what gives maple syrup its unique flavor and color variation. Trees are tapped by drilling small holes and inserting metal taps with hooks for the buckets or plastic taps connect to plastic tubing. Trees are tapped when they reach about 10 inches in diameter which takes approximately 40 years. Larger trees can have multiple taps but not more than 3 Health Taps. The sap is then collected in buckets or high tech vacuum systems where the taps on trees are connected to elaborate plumbing systems and collected in large holding tanks. The entire process of reducing the water content in the sap to concentrate the sugar into a syrup is called "sugaring." Nothing is added and the only thing removed is water.
Boiling Down The Maple Sap
The building where we make and bottle maple syrup is called a "sugarhouse." These range from rustic sheds with simple boiling pans over wood fires to very elaborate and modern production facilities. Sap needs to be boiled as soon as sufficient quantities are gathered as it will darken and eventually spoil. Sap is boiled in an "evaporator" that consist of stainless steel pans where the sap is directed through a winding path of baffles on top of a heavy base that contains the heat source call an "arch." Sap first enters the "flue pan" which has deep channels that maximizes the surface area in contact with the heat source under the pans. A float valve on the inlet to the flue pan keeps the water level constant so that boiling efficiency is maximized. Sap is then allowed to enter the "syrup pan" where it can be watched closely as it continues to wind its way back and forth, boiling constantly and increasing in density as it nears the end of the pan. Once it reaches just the right temperature (7.1 degrees above the boiling point of water) and density (66.9% sugar), a valve is opened and the nearly finished syrup flows out.
Modern Sugaring Technology
Several more recent innovations have increased the efficiency of the sugaring process which ultimately reduces the amount of fuel needed to produce syrup. 1000's of trees are connected by elaborate plastic tubing systems. The sap is drawn out this tubing by vacuum pumps and emptied into large tanks that is gathered and taken to the sugarhouse. Reverse osmosis machines pump the raw sap through very special membranes that separate the water from the syrup and reduce the water content by as much as 75%. This single piece of technology has had the most significant effect on time saving and energy usage. Heat exchangers use the tremendous amounts of steam exiting the evaporator to preheat the incoming sap lowering the heat rise required to start it boiling. And finally, electronic temperature controls are often used to control a valve that automatically opens and closes at precise temperatures to draw off syrup more effectively.
It's Almost Syrup
After the syrup is drawn off the evaporator, it needs to be filtered to remove a gritty naturally occurring substance called "sugar sand" or "niter." Sugar sand is made up of minerals from the maple tree that precipitate from the sap as it's boiled. Syrup is poured through wool cone filters or pumped through a filter press. It is now pure Vermont maple syrup.
The last step is to grade the syrup by color and taste. Vermont grades are Fancy or Light Amber, Medium Amber, Dark Amber, or B. When the syrup is bottled, Vermont law requires it be marked with the official Vermont grade. Visit our grades page for more on different Vermont maple syrup grades.
Time For The Orchard Hill Farm Label
Now it's packaged in containers, sold in bulk or further processed into many other maple based products. We hope you'll agree Vermont maple products stand out from the rest.