It’s no secret: Vermonters are fanatic about maple syrup. Wedrizzle it over our pancakes and smoked bacon, have it in our creemees andcandy, brew it with our beer; we flavor our lives with this sweet, stickysubstance.
The Vermont Agencyof Agriculture, Food and Markets, in partnership with the Vermont SugarmakersAssociation and UVM Extension, will hold three public meetings seeking comments on the proposed changes to the maple grading system.
Currently, the U.S.and Canada are the largest maple-producing countries in the world, and have completely different grading systems. In Vermont, an entirely separate gradingsystem is in place. For example,“Fancy,” “Grade A Dark Amber” and “Grade B” syrup only exist in the GreenMountain State’s markets.
The proposedchanges aim to streamline a variety of grading jargon into a new set ofconsistent international standards. “Vermont fancy” would be replaced with“Grade A Golden Delicate Taste.” The other grades would undergo a transformationas well:
This proposal iscausing controversy within the sugaring community. Some see it as a positive transition that will provideclarity to consumers. Others seeit as a way to dull the distinction of a Vermont syrup.
Bruce Taft, ofTaft’s Milk and Maple Farm in Huntington, is dismayed at the thought ofchanges to the grading system. “My father was a sugarmaker, my grandfather wasa sugarmaker, this is what we do; we’ve been tapping the same trees for years,” he says. “Vermont has a uniquestandard in the maple industry and I will be sad to see it go. Why do we haveto lose the standard we’ve had for years?”
Some believe theadjustment to a universal grading system is fine, but disagree with the newlingo. Dick Wilcox of Amber Ridge Maple in Underhill says, “Everybody wantssimplicity, and isn’t that the goal of the changes? If you want to provide lessconfusion for consumers, make the new grading names less lengthy and drawn out — it’s too much like reading a novel.”
When asked ifconsumers will still seek out maple syrup from Vermont despite a single, international grading system, Wilcox thinks yes. “They are looking at where the syrupis coming from, not the elaborate verbiage on the bottle,” he says.
Henry Marckes, theVermont ag agency maple specialist, holds a unique position in thedebate. “As a person who has been on the committee for 10 years, I canunderstand the proposal. But, also as a native Vermonter, I can understand whywe don’t want to lose our “fancy,” Marckes explains.
“The ‘fancy’ title will still be allowed to get slapped on abottle of maple syrup. In fact, I would make it the biggest word on there," Marckes continues. "Itjust wouldn’t be the actual grade of the product. The density standards aregoing to stay the same, meaning the sugar concentration will still be higherthan [in] products from other states.
“To be honest, I amneutral on the issue. The Agency of Agriculture wants the public’s opinion onthis before any changes are made. That is why we are holding these meetings acrossthe state,” says Marckes. “I expect a big turnout and am excited to hear whatVermonters have to say.”
To get thecomplete run-down on the issue and make your maple-loving Vermonter voiceheard, head to one of this week’s meetings.
Dates andlocations are as follows:
• Tuesday,October 16: Middlebury American Legion Post 27, 49 Wilson Road, Middlebury
• Wednesday,October 17: South Woodstock Fire Station, Rt. 106, South Woodstock
• Thursday, October18: Lamoille Union Tech Center, Rt. 15, Hyde Park
The meetings will begin promptly at 7 p.m. and willinclude a presentation and discussion to follow.
Photo courtesy of Vermont Maple Sugar Makers Association