Precision Counts at Maple Syrup School 

Producing maple syrup might be a sweet business, but if you’re really going to make it, you have to be into the science of it.That’s what people were learning in Skowhegan today, at the International Maple Grading School.It’s an intense two days of school, complete with quizzes.”They come in thinking it’s this serious thing, and it is, but we have a lot of fun too,” says Kathy Hopkins, with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension.Everyone here is learning how to accurately grade maple syrup.”There are four standards that have to be met. Color, clarity, density and flavor,” Hopkins says.Students range from those with small, hobby operations to commercial processors from states throughout New England.”Having people not just lecture at you, but let you try it and practice it, makes all the difference in what you go home with at the end of the day,” says Debra Hartford, a sugar maker from West Enfield.Now in it’s sixth year, the school is popular, with a four-year waiting list to get in. They keep it small, around 20 students, for hands-on learning.”Even the slightest amount of off-flavoring can get quite concentrated during the cooking process. It can really stand out in the delicate flavor of maple,” says Lyle Merrifield, president of the Maine Maple Producers Association. That’s why they were learning about the small variations from tree to table, which have big influences on their product.”So that the consumer gets a product that they enjoy very much,” Hartford says.”A lot of people enjoy a light amber, some people love medium, it seems to gaining momentum that people like dark and extra dark,” Merrifield says. The school is being hosted in Maine for the first time, by the UMaine Cooperative Extension. Producers say now’s a good time for syrup in our state.”Especially now in the past 10 years, it’s really growing and thriving,” says Merrifield. “So, it’s good to be a part of it right now.”