Lucia Suarez/ Staff Photo
Wayne Chmieleski of Wells speaks at a maple syrup grading forum Wednesday night in South Woodstock. Chmieleski spoke out against the proposed changes, saying Vermont maple syrup is “something special.”
SOUTH WOODSTOCK — The proposed changes to Vermont’s maple syrup grading system have created a sticky situation for sugarmakers who feel it will hurt the state’s long-standing maple heritage.
More than 30 local sugarmakers listened to the recommendations made by the International Maple Syrup Institute during a public hearing Wednesday night at the South Woodstock Fire House. It was the second hearing on the topic sponsored by the state Agency of Agriculture in partnership with the Vermont Sugarmakers’ Association and the University of Vermont Extension.
“We want to listen,” said Jolinda Laclair, deputy secretary of agriculture, told the audience. “We know that this is a serious issue. We have to be very clear about maple.”
The IMSI is hoping to create a worldwide standard for grading maple syrup and that does not sit well with many local sugarmakers.
Vermont has four maple syrup grades — Vermont Fancy, Vermont Grade A Medium Amber, Vermont Grade A Dark Amber and Vermont Grade B.
The standardized grades would take away the grade names and include taste descriptions on the label, something Vermonters have not done before.
The new grades would be: Golden Maple Syrup with a Delicate Taste, Amber Maple Syrup with a Rich Taste, Dark Maple Syrup with Robust Taste and Very Dark Maple Syrup with a Strong Test.
Henry Marckres, the state’s maple specialist, said that by including the taste descriptions in the grades, it will be easier for consumers to understand what type of maple syrup they are buying and how it will taste. He said the words used to describe the syrup are ones that they know and use for other foods.
“Consumers buy the syrup for its flavor and not on color,” he said.
Marckres said another benefit under the new standards is that Vermont sugarmakers would be able to sell “Vermont Grade B” syrup in retail store instead of just wholesale.
“People thought that Grade B was not a good one,” he said. “Now you will be able to sell it retail.”
For many of the sugarmakers at the hearing, the biggest concern was that Vermont will lose its edge in the market because all maple syrup will be graded identically.
“We are going to be looked at the same,” said Chester sugarmaker Mark Mitchell. “I do feel that we are going to be mixed and lose the heritage of Vermont. It’s not worth it.”
While many agreed with Mitchell about not wanting to lose the history and heritage Vermont has with sugarmaking, Pam Green, co-owner of Green’s Sugarhouse in Poultney, said the changes would be a good thing, especially for the people buying the syrup.
“That is who we should be concerned about,” she said. “We really need to make it really simple for consumers.”
Green added that it will be the responsibility of the sugarmakers to not lose Vermont’s tradition and quality.
“It’s our responsibility to keep up that tradition and the Vermont brand,” she said. “We have to embrace tradition but we should not get lost in our tradition. We have to realize that our product goes beyond the gate of the farm.”
Another detail under the new standard is that all bottles will needs to have coding, meaning that all batches will be traceable.
Marckres said it will be beneficial to identify any wrong batch, remembering an incident more than three decades ago when he had to take 1,000 containers off the shelves in White River Junction because one bottle had absolutely no sugar and had become “liquid rubber.”
“If it had coding, I would have known what batch it came from,” Marckres said. “That one has stuck with me for 30 years.”
The conversation on IMSI’s recommendations will continue, according Laclair. She said Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Ross will be listening to the testimony of the public hearings as well as all comments received during the next 30-day comment period.
Ross, who could not attend Wednesday’s public hearing because of a personal conflict, will use everything collected to make a decision which may include accepting the recommendations as presented, creating a hybrid to include the current standards, or sending it to the Legislature.
“The Vermont brand resonates,” Laclair said. “We are hearing you. We need a strategic plan no matter what happens.”MORE IN Vermont NewsJERICHO — Flash flooding from record-tying rainfalls in parts of northern Vermont closed roads... Full StorySPRINGFIELD — The parent of a black student who, according to a federal investigation, was the... Full Story
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