The theft of maple syrup worth an estimated $18-million from the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers warehouse in Saint-Louis-de-Blandford, Quebec has rocked the maple syrup industry and the investigation has spread beyond the Canadian border. Some of the stolen syrup was possibly sold to Maple Grove Farms in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, the largest packer of maple syrup in the United States.
Maple Grove has issued a statement denying any knowledge that the syrup it bought was hot, but had purchased it “in good faith with no reason to believe that it was coming from Quebec or that it may have been stolen.”
The crime and its subsequent investigation have not only exposed a well organized maple syrup black market, but may enable New York State maple syrup producers to capitalize on blowback from the federation’s authoritarian control of the industry.
According to Benoit Girouard, president of the Union Paysanne, a farmers’ union formed to dispute the province’s main agricultural union, Quebec’s effort to control maple syrup sales is backfiring. Due to the fact that Quebec’s prices for maple syrup are artificially set instead of by the free market, in addition to the added expense of the dictatorial bureaucracy, American producers can come in under them. 10 years ago, Quebec supplied 80% of the world’s maple syrup where as today, that number has dropped to about 76%.
Mr. Girouard stated that New York State is rapidly expanding production and could threaten Quebec’s dominance of the market. “Businessmen can see an opportunity, and they have realized that in Quebec, maple syrup is going to stagnate because of the system that has been implemented,” said Girouard. “For supply management to work, there have to be closed borders,” he said, but with syrup, it’s a free market everywhere but in Quebec. A study by the Régie des marchés agricoles et alimentaires released in 2012 noted that American competition “is an important preoccupation for the Quebec maple industry.”
However, Mary Ross of The Mohawk Valley Trading Company where their maple syrup is made primarily from sugar maple sap says that "New York State is quite a ways off from being any type menace to Quebec’s supremacy in the global market."
“First of all, look at the numbers;" Ross continued "Vermont is the largest producer in the United States, generating about 5.5 percent of the global supply with over 1,140,000 US gallons during the 2011 season, followed by New York with 564,000 US gallons for the same period, which is less than half of that”
“With Quebec supplying almost 80% of the global demand for maple syrup, and Vermont 5.5 percent of the global supply, I doubt that New York State maple syrup producers will be much of a threat any time soon. That is a pretty tall order to fill”.
About Maple Syrup
Next to honey, maple syrup is the most popular natural sweetener in North America and its production predates European colonization. Early Native American societies in Canada and the northeastern United States were distilling maple syrup and sugar before those geographic boundaries existed. Maple sugar is made from the controlled crystallization of maple syrup and takes several forms.There is no written record of the first syrup production but several native legends persist. Many tribes celebrated the short maple sap collection season with specific rituals.
The Native Americans collected maple sap from v-shaped notches carved into maple trees. The sap was diverted into birch bark buckets using bark or reeds. It was concentrated by placing hot stones into the buckets or by freezing the sap and removing the ice, which is composed only of water.
Sugar maple sap is preferred for maple syrup production because it has an average sugar content of two percent. Sap from other maple species is usually lower in sugar content, and about twice as much is needed to produce the same amount of finished syrup.
When Europeans reached northeastern America they adapted native techniques to make their own maple syrup. The v-shaped notches were replaced with auger-drilled holes. This practice is less damaging to the trees. Bark buckets were replaced with seamless wooden buckets carved from lumber rounds. The method of sap concentration also changed from passive to active. Large amounts of sap were collected and brought to a single area where it was boiled over fires in round cauldrons until reduced to the desired consistency. ‘Sugar shacks’ were built expressly for the purpose of sap boiling. Draft animals were often used to haul fire wood and large containers of sap for sugaring. Maple syrup was an important food additive in early America because imported cane sugar was not yet available.
In the mid-1800’s syrup production changed again. Round cauldrons were replaced by flat pans in order to increase surface area and therefore allow for faster evaporation. Over the next 60 year several variations on this design were patented. Draft animals were replaced by tractors and heating methods expanded to include propane, oil and natural gas as well as wood.
The 1970’s represent another period of major changes in maple syrup production. Plastic tubing running directly from trees to the sugaring location eliminated the need for energy and time intensive sap collection. Reverse osmosis and pre-heating made syrup production more efficient. Recent advances have been made in sugarbush (maple trees used primarily for syrup production) management, filtration and storage.
There are two well known systems maple syrup grading in use today. One system is used in Canada (where 80% of the world’s maple syrup is produced) and another system is used in the United States of America. Both systems are based on color and translucence with relate to the flavor of the syrup. Different grades are produced by the same trees over the length of the season.
Since maple syrup recipes usually do not specify any particular grade to use, take into consideration that darker colored syrups will produce dishes that a have a pronounced maple flavor.
The Mohawk Valley Trading Company hours of operations are 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. EST, seven days a week. Reach them at (315)-519-2640 to learn more.
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