When he wasn’t declaring financial emergencies in cities like Detroit, Governor Snyder had time for more pleasurable duties last month, such as declaring March as Michigan Maple Syrup Month.
You may not know this, but Michigan is the 7th-highest maple syrup producing state in the country, with about 100,000 gallons produced annually. The value of this harvest is not to be dismissed lightly: known as liquid gold, the purest syrup commands a price of more than $35 a gallon, making Michigan’s production worth about $3.5 million. Indeed, the syrup is one of the only agricultural products for which demand exceeds supply, and which requires no government crop support or subsidies.
So valuable is the precious liquid that, in August 2012, thieves stole $30M worth of it from a storage facility in Quebec. That the culprits thought it worthwhile to plan and carry out the theft, transport and storage of 15,000 barrels of syrup speaks to its value, and the market demand for it at prices ten times that of gasoline.
Michigan is the home of some particularly high quality syrup, and Michigan Maple Syrup Month will celebrate this, as well as highlighting the “vast, integrated network of family farmers, processors, wholesalers, and retailers who work to ensure a safe maple syrup supply to be enjoyed by consumers throughout our state and nation,” as Jamie Clover Adams, Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) Director, says.
March is a particularly appropriate month for this celebration, as the maple season starts in February in the southern counties of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula and runs into April in the Upper Peninsula. During this period, the weather warms up enough to create a cycle of alternate freezing and thawing that prompts the sap of the sugar maple tree to rise. Cuts, called taps, are made in the tree’s bark and the sap flows into buckets through special spiked taps called spiles. The tapping season is short and hectic, as the sap does not keep well, and has to be handled carefully to ensure that the finished product will be safe for consumption. Such is the concern for the quality, purity and safety of Michigan’s syrup that all producers are required to be licensed, and minimum sugar levels are set by the State.
It takes 40 gallons of sap (simply called “maple”) to make one gallon of syrup. The sap is heated and evaporated to increase its sugar content – initially between 2% and 3% – to at least the minimum 66% concentration required by law. This is more of an art than a science, with producers continually testing and tasting their product at all stages of the labor- and knowledge-intensive process to ensure a satisfactory result. The higher the sugar concentration above the minimum 66%, the thicker the product, changing from liquid syrup, through maple creams and soft maple sugar, to hard maple sugar.
Interested in seeing the process at work? “Local maple syrup producers usually welcome visitors to their sugaring operations,” says Larry Haigh, Michigan Maple Syrup Association (MMSA) President, “To find a producer in your area, look for steam coming from the roof of their sugar house or go to www.mi-maplesyrup.com and find the location of a sugar house in your part of the Great State of Michigan.”
MMSA members will host the first ever Michigan Maple Syrup Weekend this year. Three separate weekends will accommodate the distinct areas of the state and the weather that affects them: the area south of US 10 will be on the weekend of March 16-17; north of US 10 will be on March 23-24; and the Upper Peninsula will be on the weekend of March 30-31. Those farms participating will be included in a printed brochure available at local welcome centers, Chamber of Commerce and other public places. In addition, there will be signage directing visitors to the participating farms.
The MMSA web site has some excellent additional information about out beloved syrup, as well as a list of events, and some mouth-watering recipes in which to use your newly tapped syrup, so join in the syrupy celebration for the month of March!