We left off last week discussing the evaporator. That’s not the end of the story, though! There’s a whole process for finishing maple syrup, as well.
After the syrup comes off the evaporator, it has to be filtered. Without filtering, the syrup looks murky from all the sugar sand still in it.
The Filtering System
The small steel tank in the upper part of this picture holds and heats the syrup. When it’s hot enough, the syrup is piped through a set of very fine filters that are in between grooved metal plates. Once clear and filtered, pipes run the syrup into a stainless steel barrel or plastic jug, depending on how we’re selling it. Once either type is full, it’s sealed off for sale.
Wholesale or Consumer-Sale
We can sell our finished syrup wholesale or bottled individually. We often do some of each.
Individual bottles are more profitable and are preferred by our frequent buyers (since they often run out of syrup during the year), but they take a lot more work. We fill the bottles after filtering and seal them in half-gallon, quart, or pint jugs. Sometimes we get the decorative glass maple leaf jars and sell those, too. We keep the syrup bottles on shelves in our house until they’re sold.
Selling bottles individually requires personally delivering to customers or boxing and shipping them throughout the year. It’s a complicated process to pack them so that they don’t bust open and leak during shipping, since postal employees apparently play soccer with the boxes.
For wholesale, the syrup is sealed in a 40-gallon stainless steel barrel. At the end of the season, usually during the third week of April, we load the barrels onto a truck and bring them to another local producer’s maple farm. A large maple wholesaler purchases them all, and we get the money up front. We get less money from wholesale, but it’s much less hassle. One disadvantage is that the pricing is largely dependent on the “grade” of the syrup.
Maple Syrup Grades
Maple syrup comes in one of five grades: Golden Delicate, Rich Amber, Dark Robust, Very Dark Strong, and Processing Grade. The grades are based on the color, and indicate the flavor of the syrup and when in the season the sap came from.
Golden Delicate is light-colored, almost pale yellow, with a sugary sweet taste and just a hint of maple flavor. It comes from the first few runs of the season. Each following grade is slightly darker and has a stronger maple flavor than the last, with Very Dark Strong being the darkest, strongest, and nearly the latest of the season.
Processing Grade comes from sap that really is past the point of being usable, but it can be boiled up and sold anyway. It is from late in the season and tastes absolutely awful – it’s used for flavoring tobacco.
In wholesale, prices are highest for Golden Delicate barrels, and get progressively less with each darker grade. For individual sale, we sell all good grades at the same price, so you can enjoy whatever type is your favorite without worrying about price differences. Processing grade is never sold to consumers, so you don’t have to worry about buying a nasty batch!
So that’s the story of making and finishing maple syrup! It’s a lot of work, but at least it gives us something to do during this rather dull, muddy time of year.
What else would you like to know about the maple-making process?