Monday, June 2, 2014

A Family Outing to Green Mountain Maple Sugar Refining Company Inc. in Vermont

By Melissa Goldberg

For the past five summers my family has vacationed on Lake Champlain at the Tyler Place Family Resort.  One of my husband and my favorite activities is to take a bike ride and stop at Joeys Junction in Highgate Center for breakfast or just a maple latte. We always have to make a trip back with the car to pick up Joeys organic maple syrup to stock up for winter hoping the amount we buy will last until we return next August.  It never does!  It's just too good...

This year after discussing with Wendy about expanding the Farm & Fork Societys offerings, I mentioned Joeys great maple syrup and products and we thought they are perfect products for the CSA.  I shot off a quick email to Joey and in a day we were discussing plans to supply his Green Mountain Maple Sugar Refinery Co. products to our members. Joey also invited us to come to his sugar house in the winter when they were tapping the maples.

Well, during Spring Break of this year I decided last minute to head up to Stowe, Vermont for Spring skiing with my two sons. It rained our first day so we decided not to go skiing.  I happened to email Joey that morning about where I could buy his products near Stowe for our Equinox event and he responded come to the sugarhouse we are boiling in a couple hours..”  With a quick Google map I discovered the sugarhouse was only 30 miles away. We were on our way.

The Green Mountain Maple Sugar Refining Company, Inc. is one of the largest maple sugar farms in the State of Vermont. There are over 1,000 acres of forest which contain mostly northern hardwoods exhibiting sugar maple as the dominant cover type. It is NOFA (Northeast Organic Farming Association) certified organic and Kosher. These certification standards are unique to this sugaring operation.  

Maple season occurs in winter/spring when nights are still cold and the days are warming up to allow the sap to start flowing from the trees. When you drive up to the farm you can see the extensive pipeline system throughout the forest. All of the sugar maple trees in production have their sap tapped and then transported directly to the sugarhouse/storage tanks via these vacuum pipes. 

Vacuum Pipes & Storage Tanks
Even on a rainy day you can smell the sweetness of the maple syrup cooking in the sugar house, a smell that my boys and I wish we could bottle.  

Once in the sugarhouse Joey gave us the tour. First the maple sap comes in from the trees to a storage tank outside. The sap is pumped to a reverse osmosis  system to removed the water from the sap. Through this processes the sap goes from 2-3% sugar to about 66% sugar.  From this system the sap goes to the steamer.  This is different than most conventional methods of evaporating maple syrup to make syrup. Most maple syrup producers use either wood, oil, or gas fired evaporators which boils the sap at a very high temperatures. Instead of heating in this manner, Green Mountain Maple Sugar Refining Company Inc. has heat exchangers which carry the heat from steam through the maple sap which makes the sap boil at a much lower temperature than a conventionally fired evaporating system. This protects the delicate maple flavors in the syrup.  

Stainless Steel Kettle
Another differentiating point, most larger maple syrup producers use commercial defoamers when boiling the sap (even organic syrups). These defoamers are some type of fat or oil (animal, nut, or vegetable). You will never know because it is not on the label on the product and could cause allergic reactions in those who are sensitive. Joey only uses a small amount bees wax from his own honey bees raised on Lake Champlain as a defoamer.

Once the sap is boiled to the required temperature, the raw syrup is piped into stainless steel kettles where it is tested for sweetness and density. Then it is filtered and the final product is piped into 55 gallon drums. One filled drum weighs over 600 pounds!  

Joey gave us a taste of the hot syrup. Wow, what a sweet treat (pun intended)!

Joey and my boys
Green Mountain Maple Sugar Refining Company Inc. not only produces maple syrup but also maple cream, maple vinegar, maple candies and honey from their bees hives on Lake Champlain. (Joey told us his bees have been on vacation in California for the winter at an almond farm. They are due back soon when Vermont gets warmer!)