The best part of small batch syrup production? The taste tests. We all agree. Frequent taste tests.
You know what that means…spring maple syrup is in production at Zoar Tapatree! As I write this, Paul is in the sap house finishing off the third lot of the weekend. It is so exciting! There is a lot to the development of the syrup post-sap collection, and we’re cultivating the best procedures for each step. In our small system, there are three evaporators. The largest is where all the sap heads for its first stop. There are two pans, a large pan in the rear where the sap is heated and the evaporation process begins, and then the sap moves forward to a finishing pan where it continues its evolution toward syrup. When it’s nearly syrup, it is drawn off and transferred to the finish evaporators where we can watch its development more carefully to achieve the best body and flavor. It’s an art as well as a science, so each batch is going to have its own unique taste depending on when the sap was collected, and how fast or slowly it is evaporated. Consequently, we are tracking each batch and making our notes on flavor. Ultimately, we’d like the end user to know what’s in the bottle before choosing what to use it with.
Filter or settle, this is also a consideration… It’s undoubtedly faster, albeit not fool-proof, to simple filter the syrups to remove the cloudiness of sugar sands and other naturally-occurring thicknesses of the syrup. We know, too, that the Northern Black Walnut syrup has a significant, naturally occurring body, almost like pectin, which arises in the freshly prepared syrup. I love it while it’s in suspension, and yet within a week, that settles into white sand at the bottom of the bottle leaving a beautiful syrup layer and a thin sand layer below. Paul and Jeri prefer to settle syrup rather than put it through filters. In this way, the end product is an extremely clear syrup and none of the goodness is lost in a filter. We were discussing settled syrup in the woods today, and how end users might think about it as a process, or how they’d possibly react if there was some settled portion in a clear glass container. As Paul wryly noted, “Settled syrup–it’s not going to kill you~!” (After a good laugh, we thought this might be a must-have on the label.) Although some maple producers bottle in solid colored containers, we’d like to keep to clear glass so that the user can see the syrup. We’re leaning toward a more whole product, with partial filtering and letting it settle naturally, even if some of that is in the bottom of the bottle. If it works for wine, why not syrup? Stay tuned on this continuing discussion.
In any event, tonight we sat Jeri down to taste the different batches. She pronounced Batch #1 as having a light, toasted nutty flavor with a lot of depth; Batch #2 as a bold, sweet syrup with a thicker body. Batch #3 is cooling now, so you’ll have to wait for a Jeri Analysis on that one… The kids were divided. Brad and Ella had a preference for Batch #1 (although they devoured half a bottle of #2 for dinner), and Grailey thought they were both delicious. Overall, the in-house testers have been pleased, and nothing could be more gratifying.
Three cold “no-flow” days ahead, and then we’re expecting the peak of the spring syrup season. It is certainly the sweetest time of the year.