From Simple Sap to Maple Syrup … it only tastes like magic. In fact, the process of turning sap into maple syrup is based on science and skill, and requires hard work throughout the year, not just during sugaring season. For the sugar makers it is a labor of love.
The process moves through a series of steps that starts in the woods and ends in the sugarhouse. While backyard enthusiasts can do this on a scale to stock their own pantries, the producers with whom Butternut Mountain Farm work collectively tap more than one and half million maple trees annually. It is a four-step process:
- Ongoing management of the forest for maple syrup production
- Tapping maple trees and collecting maple sap
- Boiling maple sap into maple syrup
- Filtering and packaging maple syrup
The influence of pressure is a function of sap flow. Changes in temperature generate sap flow by causing pressure to develop in the tree (that's why cold nights and warm days are described as 'good sugaring weather'). If we don't have ideal temperature changes the tree pressure is very low and sap barely flows. By applying vacuum technology, we are essentially changing the atmospheric pressure at the tap, allowing a more favorable enviornment for the sap to run. The vacuum can't make sap run when it wouldn't normally, but it can help extend the run.
Tapping maple trees and collecting maple sap | We collect sap through a system of tubing and pipeline, using gravity to get the sap into a tank that feeds directly to the sugarhouse. Every January we head out into the woods to inspect the lines, make repairs or additions where necessary, and ensure the system is in good working order. As we anticipate warmer days, we begin tapping. On our farm alone, we tap over 15,000 trees. This is a labor-intensive process, requiring drilling a tiny hole into each tree, and then tapping a spout ever so gently into that hole. Determining when the first good run will happen is where the magic (or guess work!) happens. We don’t want to tap too early because the tap hole will eventually dry out and stop running prematurely; too late and we’ve shortened an already short season and diminished our supply of sap.
Boiling Maple Sap into Maple Syrup | Once the sap has been collected, boiling commences. On average, it takes about 40 gallons of maple sap to make one gallon of maple syrup. This means a lot of water has to be removed. Sap has between 1.5% and 3.0% sugar content. Evaporating the water, concentrates and caramelizes the sugars, producing that subtle and delicious maple flavor. Sap officially becomes maple syrup when it reaches a density of 66.9 Brix (a system that measures sugar content).
Filtering and packaging of maple syrup | Finally, syrup from the evaporator is hot filtered and pumped into bulk drums or retail containers. The drums of maple syrup are then shipped to Butternut Mountain Farm. Following exacting production standards, we track every barrel with rigorous quality control and state-of-the-art supply logistics to ensure we deliver the best maple syrup possible to our customers each and every day of the year.
So, the next time you enjoy waffles with maple syrup, raise your fork in appreciation of the process that provided the sweetness.