Our Process Making Vermont Maple Syrup
This is a photo of Randy Mike and myself. Randy is working at the drawoff point and you can see the large red pneumatic valves which open to let the syrup out of the steam heated evaporator pan. Mike is filling a barrel with syrup which was just produced and I am replacing one of the hot water hoses as I have just cleaned a tank with scalding 200 degree F hot water. Keeping the stainless steel tanks spotlessly clean with scalding hot water produces a better flavored Pure Vermont Maple Syrup. In the foreground you can see one of the steam heated draw off kettles. These kettles are the ones in which the syrup is drawn into when it exits the evaporating system.
These are a few of the syrup samples from the crop we produced this year. Each sample represents a 55 gallon drum of Pure Vermont Maple Syrup. A 55 gallon drum of syrup weights 605 pounds of syrup and the drum weights about 60 pounds, therefore each drum full weights approximately 665 pounds. You can see the difference in color of the different parts of the season in these samples. The different colors represent different grades of maple syrup. As you can see the vast majority of the syrup produced is a very light color or what is called Vermont fancy grade. Each year The Green Mountain Maple Sugar Refining Company makes the majority of the annual maple harvest in the fancy grade category. There are some very important reasons for this as our process here is quite different than any other. We have designed and built all of the equipment here ourselves and started from the bottom up. We are able to make the finest quality, finest flavored, Pure Vermont Maple Syrup, using the least amount of energy. Please click on the grades leaf on the homepage for a further explanation of the Pure Vermont Maple Syrup Grades.
This is the side of the building on the entrance side where you would drive up to. We have many questions of why we named the Company The Green Mountain Maple Sugar Refining Company. So I would like to explain it now. Pure Vermont Maple Syrup is made from taking the sap of the sugar maple tree and reducing it. We reduce it in a few ways and we will get in more detail on how that is done, however, the final process, the boiling is done with steam. The conventional method of evaporating maple syrup to make syrup uses either wood, oil, or gas fired evaporators. These are large pans which sit on an arch base to which the heat source is burned. There are very high temperatures on the fire to which the pans are exposed to. Instead of heating in this manner, we have heat exchangers which carry the heat from the steam through the maple sap. The steam gives off its heat, changes to water or condensate, and this is the heat which makes the sap boil. We boil at a much lower temperature than a conventionally fired evaporating system would and therefore we are able to protect the delicate maple flavors in the syrup. A light colored and excellent flavored syrup is produced on our farm due to this process.
This is a shot of the Russo Economizer. This is a fuel and time saving invention that I will be rolling out to the maple industry. It has been installed for the 2005 season and has improved productivity significantly. I am very pleased with the results obtained and actually it has far exceeded my expectations. I can not disclose how the unit operates as I will be applying for a patent on the unit. However, if you visit the sugarhouse, you will be able to see the unit in operation.
These are the tapped maple trees and on the bottom picture you can get a close up view of the spouts which actually go into the tree. Each year beginning in February our crew will go and cut what are called tap holes in each tree. We use a 5/16 inch bit which is specially designed to cut a clean and round taphole in each tree. We will cut a tap hole no more than one inch deep in each tree. Normally we cut only one taphole per tree. It is important that we do not “over tap” our trees or we will be removing too much of the stored energy of the tree and cause the tree to decline in health. Remember the word tap means simply cutting a 5/16 inch hole in the tree prior to when the sap starts being produced or what we call sap”running”.
Each year, depending on the winter and our various references to weather guides, etc. we decide when it is time to cut the tap holes in our trees. As we are now tapping 50,000 trees, we need to begin the tapping utilizing available labor and keeping a very close watch on the weather. Deep snow requires the tapping crew to wear snowshoes which slows down the tapping process. Very cold weather slows it down also. Through all of this, we have to prepare the sugarhouse to begin operations as we are never sure when the first sap run of the season will begin. It is important for us to capture the sap of the first sap run as this can very well equate to a large percentage of the annual crop production. We are dealing with forces of nature and in doing so we have to utilize our skills as it is both an art and a science. We are stewards of the beautiful sugar maples and hundreds and hundreds of acres of timberland which we can keep from being harvested if we indeed continue to produce and sell our high quality product. It is our intention to provide as much information as possible to educate the public on this wonderful gourmet food item which is produced from the hardwood forests. It is exciting, challenging, and we are never sure from one minute to the next what will happen and when with regards to production as we are fully dependent on the weather.
You can view the whole Process gallery using the gallery below!
(click on a thumbnail to view another step of the process)