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New Syrup Grades

Craig Line - Sunday, March 15, 2015
Beginning last year, and required of sugarmakers in Vermont this year, are a set of new, theoretically more descriptive grades for maple syrup.  The Vermont Maple Sugar Makers' Association and the state Department of Agriculture held hearings, involved focus groups and considered many suggestions and ideas, and boiled it all down to new terms that include both color and flavor for Vermont's most iconic product.  I must admit that I am still not entirely on board with this change, but then this seems to be a more common issue for me as I approach curmudgeonliness more and more every day. And, as a syrup producer who markets syrup in stores and now online, I am required to comply. Oh, well, syrup by any other name will still taste as sweet...

For many years, Vermont maple syrup has been divided into one of four grades based on color and flavor. As consumer preference has changed over the past century, so too has the grading system evolved to provide a more accurate description based on consumer preference. The names of each grade, however, did not necessarily provide a meaningful description of the syrup. For instance, with no prior knowledge of maple syrup grades, Grade B does not mean much other than suggesting it might be of a lesser quality than Grade A.

Beginning last year, and required starting in 2015, Vermont maple syrup producers will use a new grading system that will provide a better description of each grade, or class, or syrup. Each grade will consist of both a color and flavor descriptor:

Grade A:  Golden Color with Delicate Taste (formerly called Fancy)

Grade A:  Amber Color with Rich Taste

Grade A:  Dark Color with Robust Taste

Grade A: Very Dark Color with Strong Taste (formerly called Grade C)

The chart below shows the new grades in comparison to the previous grades. In the new system, there are 4 grades rather than 5, and what was known as Grade C, formerly available only for commercial use, will now be available for retail sale.









History of Maple

A native Chief returning to his village after a hunting trip threw his tomahawk into a sugar maple tree trunk. The spring sun warmed the tree and sap ran down the bark from the cut the tomahawk had made and into a birch bark container left under the tree. Thinking the crystal clear sap was water, the Chief’s wife poured it in with some meat she was cooking. As the water boiled away, a sticky sweet glaze formed on the meat, adding a wonderfully sweet maple flavor to the meal.

When settlers came with metal tools, they drilled small holes in the trees, whittled wooden spouts and replaced the wooden troughs used by Native Peoples with wooden buckets and covers. They made their maple sugar in large iron kettles suspended over a fire by wooden poles or tripods. Making maple sugar was common in Vermont, being some distance from any seaport where white sugar was imported. 

As maple sugaring evolved, arches were built, containing the heat from roaring wood fires and holding large flat pans on top. Buildings to house these “boilers” was the next step. Sugarhouses today still resemble those early structures with the characteristic cupola on the roof allowing the sweet maple scented steam to billow forth.

To find out how Vermont sugarmakers make our maple syrup today click on “How We Make It.”