Making the grade

Different grades of syrup have differing colors.
Different grades of syrup have differing colors.

When you were in school, an “A” scrawled across the top of your paper was probably an excellent thing to see. Or, perhaps you were the type of student where your school grades may not have mattered to you at all. Either way, the right type of letter meant you either passed the test, or you didn’t. As you grew up though, chances were that you didn’t really think about grading systems anymore.

Grading still matters to the folks around here, but it does not necessarily have anything to do with schooling.

The grading I’m referring to is the type that labels one gallon of maple syrup from the next. When sap is collected from sugar maple trees and boiled into maple syrup, its color is inspected to determine the “grade” that it is. Generally speaking, the lighter the color, the lighter the flavor; the darker the color, the heavier (richer) the syrup will be. In Vermont, syrup runs the gamut from Vermont fancy (Grade A Fancy), Grade A Medium Amber, Grade A Dark Amber, Grade B, and then commercial grade (which is sold wholesale).

Sugar makers are not always guaranteed that they are going to get an “A” for each boil they do: the grade that’s produce depends on the trees, the weather, the soil, management practices, and Mother Nature.

Nor do sugar makers necessarily want to get an “A”. The grade they hope to get depends on their market, on their customers’ preferences.

“Vermont Fancy” is a misnomer to many customers who may reasonably assume that fancy means “the best”. In truth, it’s a matter of opinion which grade smacks your palette as tasty.

The same grades of syrup can also taste different from sugar maker to sugar maker (again depending on a multitude of natural forces and management).

On paper, Merck Forest might look like a second rate student: we try for “B” as much as we can! Amongst the staff, Grade B is probably the preferred choice, and it’s also the type that sells the most quickly.

For those of you who have never experienced the different grades, next time you visit, stop in the Visitor Center and try a sample, or let us know in the comment section what your favorite grade of maple syrup is.

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