I don’t know if you’ve been following the news lately—the maple syrup news, that is—but the grading system for this brown, or rather medium amber, nectar from the sap of the sugar maple has changed.
In fact, medium amber no longer exists. Neither does light amber, dark amber or USDA Grade B.
As of January, the guidelines changed. The liquid is now rated according to color rather than grade—from golden to very dark.
The purpose, apparently, was to bring uniformity to the system.
“Vermont had fancy,” explained Tyge Rugenstein, the chief operating officer of Crown Maple, a maple syrup producer in Dover Plains, N.Y., about 80 miles north of the city. “That’s what we would call light amber.”
Now, both are called “golden.”
I sort of preferred fancy. But what I liked best was the Grade B stuff. I’d buy it along the side of the road in Vermont and assumed I was getting a deal because it wasn’t as good as the Grade A stuff.
And all maple syrup tastes great.
That’s the beauty of sugar. It never disappoints. Having my waffles with maple syrup that’s dark rather than light was all the same to me.
“There is no such thing as best,” Mr. Rugenstein corrected me. “Grade B has this connotation it’s not as good. That’s absolutely not the case. Chefs like the Grade B. It has a more robust maple flavor.”
Now, Grade B is called “very dark.”
Crown Maple charges the same amount for all its maple syrup—$16.95 for a 12-ounce bottle. The only difference is their soul-stirring bourbon barrel-aged syrup, which costs $29.95 a bottle.
The color is dependent, to some extent, upon when in the maple-sugaring season the sap is harvested and turned into syrup. “Early season tends to be lighter,” Mr. Rugenstein said. “Later season is darker.”
It apparently has something to do with the bacteria in the trees acting on the sugar.
I can’t say I stayed completely focused as Mr. Rugenstein and Compton Chase-Lansdale, Crown Maple’s chief executive, explained the nuances of the manufacturing process. However, here are a few fun stats:
It takes about 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple syrup. And on a good day—meaning that the temperature is below freezing at night but warms up to 40 degrees in the morning—Crown Maple’s 1,500 acres of trees, and 150 miles of tubing, can produce 50,000 gallons of sap.
The fact that Crown Maple even has a CEO and a COO probably tells you something about the operation. And the reason I wasn’t paying full attention—besides the fact that I was distracted by the delicious maple cappuccino I’d been served—is that I was awe-struck by my surroundings.
What do they call the place where farmers make their syrup? A sugarhouse? Crown Maple’s sugarhouse is the size of Tara in “Gone With the Wind.”
Besides all the gleaming maple-sugar processing hardware, it includes a cafe, a tasting room, elegant men’s and women’s comfort facilities and the “mural room.”
“It’s a nice way to talk about the property” to tour groups, Mr. Rugenstein explained, as I admired the colorful floor-to-ceiling mural. “There are 89 birds and animals.”
The artwork’s centerpiece is a quaint-looking log cabin. That’s the country home of Robb and Lydia Turner, who are bankrolling the enterprise.
“He’s in private equity,” Mr. Rugenstein explained.
I wasn’t so gauche as to ask how much of their fortune the Turners had plowed into the operation. But some quick math suggests the sap will have to flow freely for many a year before they recoup their investment.
Their state-of-the art equipment includes a reverse osmosis machine that removes 90% of the water from the sap and produces a concentrate with precise sugar content, as well as one of the largest maple-syrup evaporators ever built that processes the concentrate and controls the natural caramelization process.
From “tree to table,” the operation takes approximately 18 hours.
Crown Maple’s ambition, besides establishing itself as the gold—or should it be the golden, amber and dark—standard for maple syrup and perhaps one day turning a profit, is to create jobs and protect the forests of the Northeast.
“Maple is unique in that it makes the protection of hardwood forests economically sustainable,” Mr. Chase-Lansdale explained.
I didn’t think I’d live long enough to hear maple syrup talked about in terms of “terroir.” But it came up when I asked whether there could be a difference between New York, Vermont and Canadian maple syrup.
“Terroir makes a difference,” Mr. Rugenstein claimed. “We’ll get subtle differences between our different barrels. We’ll get nuances—early season/late season, sunny/rainy.
“A colder season with a nice snowpack seems to raise the sugar content,” he added.
In other words, this season’s might just be the maple syrup equivalent of a legendary year for Bordeaux.