We all know the highest grade of maple syrup is called "Vermont Fancy." But that’s not what other states and Canadian provinces call their top quality syrup.
That’s why, for the first time, a standardized set of grades is being proposed for producers everywhere.
The new standards will mean Vermont syrup will be marketed under some very unfamiliar names, but getting all the syrup producing states and Canada to agree on one set of maple syrup grades hasn’t been easy.
"The first two years we did a lot of arguing, then we finally got into working toward a goal, taking into account things like the Vermont Fancy, because that’s really important to Vermont and I certainly couldn’t sit on a committee and recommend we get rid of Fancy," says Henry Marckres of the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets, who is on the international committee that helped develop the standards.
Vermont producers are the only ones who use the word ‘Fancy’ for their highest quality syrup. The present list of Vermont grades includes:
· Grade A Medium Amber
· Grade A Dark Amber
· Vermont Grade B
The new grades reduce the list to four and employ more descriptive names:
· Golden Color, Delicate Taste
· Amber Color, Rich Taste
· Dark Color, Robust Taste
. Very Dark, Strong Taste
Marckres says producers will still be to label their syrup as Vermont Fancy.
"If it was up to me and I was marketing it, I’d put a little sticker on top of the jug that said Golden Color, Delicate Taste and on the big front label, I’d put Vermont Fancy," he says.
While the names may change, Vermont quality standards that require syrup to be a certain density, will stay the same. The standards are higher than national requirements.
Another change under the proposed new rules will allow producers for the first time to sell darker, stronger commercial grade syrup to retail outlets.
That’s in response to a growing demand for dark syrup for everything from cooking to cleansing diets.
Jacques Couture heads the board of directors of the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers Association.
Couture says much of the impetus for standardizing grade names comes from the fact that syrup is being marketed far from maple producing areas, to people who aren’t familiar with the product.
"It’s one thing to be selling maple syrup to your neighbors in town," he says. "It’s a whole other thing selling syrup in a place far, far away to consumers who have never heard of maple syrup, or very little."
Couture supports the changes but he says some members of the sugarmakers association aren’t as happy.
They’re concerned that retail sales of the darker commercial syrup might allow producers to market a poorer quality product.
They’re also worried that by abandoning long standing grade names, Vermont’s producers are losing something unique.
The Agency Of Agriculture is holding three public hearings on the proposed changes next week:
· Tuesday, October 16 – Middlebury American Legion Post 27, 49 Wilson Road, Middlebury.
· Wednesday, October 17 – South Woodstock Fire Station, Rt. 106, South Woodstock.
· Thursday, October 18 – Lamoille Union Tech Center, Rt. 15, Hyde Park.
The meetings will start at 7:00 p.m.