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Maple Showdown

May 23, 2013

Winter already seems like it ended a million years ago. But it hasn’t been that long since there was snow on the ground. For a while we had a long stretch where the days were warm but the nights dipped below freezing. And that was great for the maple producers, as those are the conditions required for the sap to flow.

Now we’ve got maple syrup, which apparently is a spring food even though its flavors are most often married with the harvest foods of fall. Maple and ramps or maple with fiddleheads sounds a lot less appealing that maple with butternut squash.

Maybe there were spring maple recipes once upon a time that fell out of favor after we became disconnected from the seasons. I have no idea.

What I do know is that this year I decided to try a couple of different maple syrups and pit them against one another in head-to-head showdowns. This is far from a comprehensive review. I’m just one guy. And I’m not even all that into sweets. But I can’t resist a good tasting.

First a word on tasting.

Tasting is hard. Yes, it gets easier the more you do it. But there are a staggering quantity of flavor components in certain foods, and untangling them takes patience and the audacity to proclaim that one syrup reminds you of crushed leaves.

The thing is, it’s easier to taste components of a certain food when you are comparing more than one of them at the same time. That way you can go back and forth, from one to the other. In doing so, their similarities fade away, and leave you with a clearer perception of their differences.

When it comes to maple syrup I have a prejudice for the darker Grade B variety. So on one recent weekend at the Schenectady Greenmarket I picked up two different bottles from this season’s crop. The first one came from Uncle Pat’s. The second one came from Cornell Farm. Both were Grade B.

My expectation was that the two syrups would be more or less the same.

But wow, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Even though both were Grade B, and from the current crop, they were entirely different colors.

Uncle Pat’s was lighter in color and quite cloudy. Cornell Farm’s looked more like what I was expecting in a Grade B maple syrup. It was dark amber, with reddish auburn highlights and great clarity.

But that’s not where the differences ended. Uncle Pat’s smelled more of toasted marshmallows while Cornell Farm’s reminded me of burnt sugar (but in a good way). Uncle Pat’s was decidedly more viscous, but it also had an earthy note in the mid palate that I wasn’t crazy about.

Of these two, it was Cornell Farm’s that was giving me more of what I wanted in a Grade B maple syrup.

Now what about Grade A? After all, there are a lot of people who swear by it. Perhaps my preference for Grade B is driven by ideology. Surely I should taste some side by side in the quiet of my own home, where I could adequately concentrate on the important task at hand.

Well, a friend of mine knows the people behind Tap House Syrup, and she gave me a bottle of their Grade A medium amber to try. Their packaging is kind of brilliant, especially for someone like me who isn’t too keen on plastic bottles.

This maple syrup comes in twelve-ounce brown glass beer bottles. Once you pop the cap, there’s a cork tied onto the neck of the bottle that you can use to seal your syrup back up. It’s really quite clever.

My favorite part about this syrup is how it smells. It reminds me of the wood burning stove at my favorite bed and breakfast in northern California. The syrup itself, though, is incredibly light. To call this a medium amber is a stretch as the syrup in my glass poured a pale flaxen color with hints of gleaming gold.

But its subtle smokiness is great. Still, it’s easy for it to be overwhelmed by stronger flavors. So this might be reserved for your most delicate pancakes. That or maybe a very light and fluffy waffle. French toast with its butter-browned surfaces would surely eclipse the nuances of this maple syrup.

The Grade B is for those who want some real assertive flavors. Something that says, “I am maple, love me.” And when I’m reaching for a bottle of maple syrup, that’s me. But while my kids would gladly pour Grade B syrup on ice cream, I’d much prefer a drizzle of roasted pumpkin seed oil and a sprinkle of sea salt.

Damn, that stuff is great.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. May 23, 2013 10:04 am

    What do you think of the proposed changes to grading nomenclature? Wish you had included a photo of the two syrups. I still haven’t cracked open the Grade B I bought up in Amsterdam this season.

  2. May 23, 2013 10:51 am

    I think you probably got a bad batch of the Uncle Pat’s. The description doesn’t sound right and there shouldn’t be that kind of taste, texture and appearance variation. Don’t you think you should get a new jug of Grade B and re-do the test?

  3. May 24, 2013 3:07 pm

    First, I want to thank you for introducing me to “grade B’ Syrup…until I read your blog I always thought it was a ‘lesser’ version to be passed by for the Grade ‘A’.
    I even tried a local grade ‘A’ side by side with ‘Vermont Maid’ and “Aunt Jemima’ (flavored corn syrup ,really) and was horribly disappointed to find they all tasted the same.
    THEN, I went to Honest Weight and bought some local Grade ‘B’ and it was a dark Amber color and poured out thick and slow. I was so excited !! I got home and actually had a bit of alone time, just me and my new best friend-Grade B !!! OMG all these years living behind the silver curtain of corporate marketing.
    My eyes were opened to a whole new world of flavors, aromas and JOY! The carmel notes, the deep rich aroma…everything was worlds away from that commercial crap they pass off as ‘maple syrup’.
    I will NEVER go back…with God as My witness I’ll Never go hungry again!!!
    Seriously, thank you for that. Now when I eat anything with syrup- Grade B only…when I run specials at the Cafe, ONLY local Grade B. It is just SO FREAKIN’ amazing, words cannot describe.
    Do you have a particular favorite ? and where do you buy it consistantly?

  4. Sima permalink
    May 24, 2013 5:09 pm

    If you can, try Vly Creek Maple Farm Syrup (Grade B, of course) – which I buy at his farm in Fleischmanns, NY. His maple sugar and maple cream are also excellent.
    Does it old style – using a wood fire to heat the syrup. He has won many awards over the years (you can see them displayed in his sugar shack). The owner is Ronald O. Morse – an energetic man in his 70s. I think he also sells at the local farmers market (but not sure), but definitely can be bought at his sugar shack (using the “honor system” whereby you leave money for the goods you take).

  5. January 26, 2014 1:24 am

    I like to search our name(Tap House Syrup) once and a while and was pleased to see this review on here! As an owner and mastermind of this creativity I was tickled. Its always good to see the fruits of your labor. We are growing slowly but surely, and world wide. It has been an exciting adventure with friends, that each year gets better as we improve our craft. This year holds many improvements to our FUSSYlittleBUSINESS, and we hope that you can review our humble hand made creation again this year!
    Thanks!! – Matt

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