Vermont Maple Sugar Producers Ponder New Syrup Grading System

The Vermont Department of Agriculture is considering changing the way it labels the state’s maple syrup. The USDA, the state agency, and the syrup makers trade group are holding a series of public meetings this week to hear what Vermont’s two thousand maple sugar farmers have to say about the idea.

Vermonters aren’t shy about their pride for their maple syrup. After all, the state requires Vermont’s product to be denser than that offered by any other state or province in the world. Jake Couture is the chairman of the board for the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers Association. He says the label system they’ve been using for the past few decades identifies syrups ranging from “Vermont Fancy” to “Grade B.” Couture says this prevents customers from choosing a syrup based on its actual flavor profile.

“Best is in the eye of the beholder. I liken it to wines. For instance, certain people like wines from certain regions. And maple syrup is a little bit like that in the sense that wherever the maple syrup is produced those trees grow on soil that is somewhat different and maybe climate conditions that are somewhat different. So there’s gonna be subtle differences in the flavors.”

Couture says many of his customers assume “Grade B” is the lowest quality, when in fact it’s the strongest, darkest product on the market. He says the new grading system would change that to include both a color indicator and a flavor descriptor. So “Grade B” would become “Grade A Very Dark Strong Taste.”

Couture says the current USDA grading system follows Vermont’s standards. So he says the decision, which falls on the state’s Secretary of Agriculture, will likely become the model for maple syrup producers across the country.

“My sense is that if you get Vermont and New York to pass it — you know we’re the two biggest — and it’s gonna go.”

Couture says the new grading system also makes it easier for maple producers to sell dark, culinary grade maple syrup — which they’ve struggled to find a market for in the past.