If Sunday brunch feels incomplete without the sweet taste of syrup, then learning about the process of making maple syrup during “Maple Weekends” in New York are for you. Check out New York farms (or others in Northeastern states including Vermont and Maine) that open their land for travelers to stop in, experience a “behind the scenes” and taste the final product.
Maple Syrup–Tap In
For several weekends in the late winter and early spring, a number of New York’s Sullivan County maple syrup producers allow travelers to come to open houses (actually “open farms”) and witness just how they make their syrup. In 2016, weather conditions meant warmer weather earlier than normal, leaving farmers racing to get production done as quickly as possible.
The Catskill Mountain Sugar House, owned by the Garigliano family, tapped more than 60-thousand trees on their 800-acre farm this year. The drive up to Sugar House Lane leads to acres of farmland, with trees entwined in a massive maze of plastic blue tubing running from tree to tree to tree.
A local guide explains that the timing of tapping maple trees varies based on elevation and location, but most are tapped in the late winter/early spring season. Why? Because this is a time when daytime temperatures rise above freezing, but fall back below freezing at night. Those alternating temperatures are needed to produce the flow of sap from the trees, and the sap usually flows for a month to six weeks. The folks who make it always hope the sap runs for longer.
A Sugar House
At the Catskill Mountain Sugar House, there are so many trees tapped that they’ve come up with a special “vacuum” system. The system allows for the sap to make it through the massive tubing system and into sap houses, and then giant vats. You’ll be able to hike through the acres of land to witness this amazing system first hand. Once the tapping season is done, folks at this farm have plenty of other work to do, so if you’re going to be in the area, make sure to call in advance to see if anyone is around to chat.
To make one gallon of fresh maple syrup, it requires between 40 and 50 gallons of tree sap. (Easier to understand why good syrup is so expensive now!) Once collected, the sap then goes through reverse osmosis. (Don’t worry, you can get a quick science lesson on site.) As the evaporation takes place, the sugar concentration can increase from about 1.5% to as much as 6% sugar. What’s left goes into a massive boiler, resembling a shiny stainless steel freight train, where it’s heated to approximately 216 degrees—and voila—maple syrup is made!
Making the Grade
Syrup is “classified” by color and taste—lines of test tubes filled with syrup appear almost as one would find paint samples in a home décor store—with the color of the syrup relating to the syrup’s flavor intensity. The lighter the syrup, the more delicate the taste…the darker the syrup, the richer the taste.
For those who crave even more than just syrup, you may also find other treats in store, including maple candy, granulated maple sugar, lollipops—even Bourbon maple syrup (a specialty of this farm) and maple mustard depending on where you end up!
Other Farms (and there are plenty to choose from) you may want to visit include the Muthig Farm, which has been producing since 1958, Sara’s Sugar Shack and Winterton Farms. Make sure to call first to let them know you’re coming and may you have some sweet travels!
If you’re going to be in Vermont, you may want to check out the Sugarbush Farm in Woodstock that sells maple soda and candy as well as aged cheeses. Kinney’s Sugarhouse in Knox, Maine is open year-round, and they make confections all year whether or not the sap is still flowing.
Have yourself a sweet visit.