Ask a maple syrup producer how he or she makes their maple syrup and you will get as many answers as there are sugar bowls. And everyone will tell you that they have the best syrup in the world. Quebec produces over 70% of all maple syrup in the world.
The influence of the land
In 2005, when we bought the maple grove where the Ferme du Loup is located in Saint-Paulin in Mauricie, the locals told us on several occasions that the syrup produced there was the best they had ever tasted. . We have customers who come to stock up every year since the mid-80s!
A lady from the village challenged me to bring her a pot of maple taffy like the one she ate when she was young. She couldn't believe it. Our little pot of taffy took her back in time. It was exactly the flavors of his memories.
There are several species of maple trees that can be tapped to collect sap. Depending on the composition of the forest, the final result will be influenced. For example, red maple imparts a toffee caramel candy taste which, while interesting, can mask the characteristic maple flavor if overcooked. The sugar maple, the preferred one, grows slowly and is easily invaded by other species.
The characteristic flavor of maple develops during the process of evaporation under the effect of heat and is attributed to certain amino acids.
Does the terroir influence the quality of maple syrup?
The sugar maple is rarely found in a homogeneous stand, but rather in competition with many other species. It is a shade-tolerant species and young seedlings can survive under a tree canopy.
The soil, the region, the exposure of the forest to the sun are factors that influence the taste of maple syrup.
Our maple grove is located at the beginning of the Laurentian chain of Quebec, facing due south on a land of rocks. Our climate is quite cold and we have a lot of snow cover. Sugar maples dominate and many are centenarians. All these factors contribute to give a characteristic taste to our products.
What role do the seasons play in making maple syrup?
One of our favorite maple syrups is that of the winter harvest. This is the first harvest, while the thermometer still reaches -20 degrees at night. The first pour generally contains few microorganisms.
As the season progresses, the more microorganisms settle in the maple sap collection system. At the end of the season, up to 10 million microorganisms can be reached per milliliter of water.
Up to a certain level, these microorganisms contribute to the improvement of the flavor of the nectar obtained.
According to Anne-Marie Desbiens quoted by Radio-Canada, it takes about 1 million microorganisms to achieve the characteristic flavors of maple. Some of our customers swear by dark syrup . The one we produce is selected for its balance between the well-characterized taste of our terroir and roasted notes.
How do equipment contribute to the great taste of maple syrup?
When we were young, we went to the sugar shack of various friends or acquaintances of my parents. Every year, a car got stuck in the mud path that connected the road to the cabin. Never the same cabin, never the same car.
There were hundreds of boilers hanging from the trees and all the children drank from them the water collected. Inside, there was always an old gentleman to keep us away from that big kettle that gave off that characteristic smell of real good maple syrup.
Over the past few years, the portrait of sugar producers has changed considerably. Research and technology have increased the productivity and yield of the forest.
In Quebec, harvesting maple syrup remains an artisanal activity. No robot can put on snowshoes, walk in the snow to cut and detail the trees. Sugar bushes are natural ecosystems that require action to protect them.
However, technology today makes it possible to automate many operations that were once done by hand. The sap collection networks are now connected via the Internet and make it possible to identify breakage and falling trees on the network, for example.
Simplified and accelerated collection makes it possible to transform maple sap more quickly and ensure excellent safety. The new kettles used, as well as the osmosis systems, reduce the time required for the evaporation of the sap.
This also results in an improvement in the quality of the final product thanks to more precise and controlled production methods, better quality equipment, as well as training offered to maple syrup producers.
For example, maple syrup producers in Quebec have invested a lot of money in order to comply with California's standard for lead in food. It is considered one of the strictest in the world and aims to protect the health of consumers by reducing their exposure to lead. Old equipment used to make maple syrup contained lead.
Lead or not, the high acquisition and maintenance costs of these new technologies cannot be ignored. The increased reliance on technology can also make maple syrup producers vulnerable to breakdowns or to their suppliers.
Small batches and the artisanal method of making exceptional maple syrup
One of the main criticisms to which we are sensitive lies in the loss of human experience, terroir and artisanal know-how vis-à-vis these new technologies in the production of maple syrup.
To produce an exceptional syrup, we believe in evaporating the sap every day and as quickly as possible. This results in a better typicity of each batch in order to distinguish them later.
This mode of production makes it possible to better enhance the particularities of the terroir and the seasons and to have our product recognized according to the different tastes of our customers.
Small batch production brings us closer to traditional methods while benefiting from up-to-date knowledge and know-how.
It is important to point out that small batch production is linked to higher production costs, which require a larger and more skilled workforce.
Which brings us to the next point.
Do you want to make exceptional maple syrup? Rigor, process and control are the three pillars which are added to the other elements. We followed these three elements to the letter when we obtained a gold medal from the Commanderie de l'érable in 2021.
Without motivation, you can't get there. It's easy to cut corners and tell yourself that the terroir will do everything, or to rely on the latest equipment, to put off cleaning the tanks until tomorrow, even if it's 2 o'clock in the morning, and you've been there for 6 a.m. the other morning and you'll only have a few hours of sleep before the next pour.
The profession of maple syrup producer is difficult, the preparation is done over a full year and the harvest lasts only a few weeks. Maple syrup is a unique product in the world, good and natural. For it to be exceptional, no doubt it takes passion.