MAYVILLE, N.Y. — “Sugarhouse hopping” during the New York State Maple Weekend is similar to doing a wine trail. Visitors tend to be like-minded — curious about the process, eager to taste, buy and converse with the people who make it happen.
Another part of the appeal is trusting a map or GPS that takes you to diminutive, out of the way places you might never have come across otherwise.
Each year, the New York State Maple Producers Association organizes the free, family-friendly event, as its member-producers open their sugarhouses to the public. It is an up-close opportunity to learn about sugaring and taste different grades of pure maple syrup.
Clear Creek Farm in Mayville was a new maple syrup producer on the trail, which wrapped up its final weekend March 23-24.
Owner John Gerber welcomed visitors inside his new beige and plum pole building, home to gleaming stainless steel equipment, including a steam jacketed kettle and a large holding tank for sap.
His sugar bush comprises 1,000 sugar maple trees. “He won’t tap any other kind,” interjected his wife, Tara. “And they are plentiful here.” The grouping of tapped maples is situated on a knoll up from the sugarhouse, allowing for a gravity-fed harvest of sap.
Although 2013 marks only the third maple season for Clear Creek Farm, they invested early-on in a reverse osmosis system. Such a system is an investment, but also a significant energy and time saver.
Tree sap flows in with a 2 percent sugar content, Gerber said. As the sap runs through the special system, water is removed, leaving a more concentrated sugar solution ready for further refinement. In fact, the sugar content is elevated upwards of 15 percent as a result of passing through the reverse osmosis machine. It can reduce the boiling time in half.
“I grew up with maple syrup,” said Gerber, who hails originally from Ohio. “I remember we had wooden buckets to collect sap at that time. The creek really flooded one year, and I think all of my Mom’s buckets floated away.”
The wooden buckets are part of the early history of the maple syrup industry. Collecting tree sap subsequently advanced to galvanized metal buckets, then to tubing, which is what many operations utilize today. Many producers still rely on wood heat in order to reduce the sap into syrup. However, with the climbing cost of energy, combined with the lengthy reduction process, reverse osmosis systems are becoming more common in the industry.
And it’s not all just about pure maple syrup anymore. Quite a few producers are inventing different culinary concoctions with this key ingredient. Maple mustards, maple cotton candy, maple barbecue sauces, even maple peanut butter and maple milkshakes are some examples of the small-batch, locally made goods that patrons get to sample and discover while on the trail.
New York state’s Maple Weekend also serves as a bridge of discovery to other farm direct products, such as honey and eggs. In the case of Clear Creek Farm, alongside the maple syrup jugs for sale is a clipboard where customers may sign up to reserve a lamb.
In 2012, New York state popped in 20,070,000 taps that produced 360,000 gallons of pure maple syrup, according to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service.