Vermont Maple Syrup
Vermont is one of the country's smallest states, but it's the largest producer of maple syrup. A visit to a maple farm is a great way to learn all about sugaring, the process of taking maple tree sap and making syrup. Sap is stored in a sugar maple tree's roots in the winter, and in the spring when conditions are just right, the sap runs up and is capable of being tapped. Tapping season takes place in March and April, which is when all maple in the state is produced.
One of the best parts of visiting a maple farm is getting to taste the four grades of syrup. As the sugaring season goes on and days get warmer, the sap becomes progressively darker and stronger flavored. Color, clarity and flavor define the four grades of syrup. Is one grade better than another? Nope. It's just a question of taste. Sap drawn early in the season produces the lightest color, and has the most delicate flavor: this is called Vermont Fancy. Vermont Grade A Medium Amber has a mellow flavor. Vermont Grade A Dark Amber is much more robust, and Vermont Grade B is the most flavorful, making it often the favorite of first-time tasters.
Is one syrup better than another? Can you actually tell the difference? You'd need an exceptionally nuanced palate to discern between one Vermont syrup and another, but aesthetics can alter taste, and authenticity counts. So when visiting a maple farm, make sure that this is a place that actually makes its own syrup, as opposed to just bottling or selling someone else's.
Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks. Sugarhouses are located throughout the state, but there's no better introduction to Vermont mapling than a visit to Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks in Montpelier, Vermont. Burr Morse's family has been mapling for more than 200 years, longer than anyone else in the state. Attractions here include a free tour of a sugar house, tastings, and an outdoor museum and woodshed theater. 1168 County Rd., Montpelier, VT, 05602. 800/242-2740. www.morsefarm.com.
Jed's Maple Products. If you're traveling with children, Jed's Maple Products, far in the Northeast Kingdom, is a good option as owners Steve and Amy Wheeler take kids into the woods to show how to tap trees. Always call ahead if you're planning a visit. 475 Carter Rd., Westfield, VT, 05874. 802/744-2095 or 866/478-7388. www.jedsmaple.com.
Vermont Maple Syrup. There are approximately 50 maple farms that are free and open all year to the public. The official industry Web site for Vermont Maple Syrup is a great resource that has a map of maple farms that host tours, a directory of producers open year-round, and a list of places you can order maple by mail. In addition, you can learn about the Annual Maple Open House weekend, which is when sugarhouses throughout the state open their doors to the public. www.vermontmaple.org.
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