Syrup contest comes down to a matter of taste

  • Ben Watson inspects the color of one of the entrants to the maple syrup contest.

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Wednesday, April 06, 2016 6:38PM

What does it take to be a winner in the maple world?

Well, realistically, a number of factors. 

Syrup is a matter of taste, said Ben Watson of Francestown, a food editor and writer. Some syrups the industry considers overboiled become tabletop favorites because they have a sweet, buttery texture. Some might carry a woody or nutty flavor – it’s not necessarily bad, but is all to individual taste, said Watson.

There were 14 entrants to the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript’s 36th annual Maple Syrup Contest. And it was a close call between the winner, Grand Monadnock Maple Farm, and the number two, Maple Row Sugaring.

In syrup, the color and the flavor are closely tied. The lighter the syrup, the more delicate the flavor, and the darker, the more robust. Light syrups are usually only captured in the early season, with the syrup getting darker as the season goes on, until the end of the year, when most of the syrup produced is used in cooking.

Both the first and second place winners this year had amber-colored entries – not the lightest colored grade of syrup, but the second tier. 

The New Hampshire Maple Producers Association has changed the way they grade syrup as of this year, said Watson, more than likely because of a change in consumer tastes.

There are still four grades, but before, where there were three grades of A – light, medium or dark amber – and the darker syrups a grade B, considered suitable mostly for cooking, now the divisions are more specific to both color and taste.

Still in four categories, all syrup colors are now classified as grade A – golden with a delicate taste, amber with a rich taste, dark with a robust taste and very dark with a strong taste.

But despite a growing popularity among darker syrups, it was still the amber class that won the day last weekend.

“Something about the flavor of that batch hit home right away,” said winner Jon Miner, owner of Grand Monadnock in Harrisville. “All of our syrup, the taste is phenomenal, but this stuck out.”

Grand Monadnock sells about 250-300 gallons of its syrup per year through its sugar house, website, and providing to locals.

This year they produced almost uniformly a lighter variety, an oddity in the sap-collecting world, where typically syrup darkens as the season goes on.

“This year was surprising, because we made a lot of light syrup. We never really got beyond an amber color.”

Chris Hill, who runs Maple Row Sugaring in Rindge along with co-partner Scott Kemp, said they saw a more typical season from their 120 taps. But their submission to this year’s contest was the lightest batch of syrup they had all year.

“Out of all our boils, that was our best grade. Out of our own tasting, we thought that that was the one,” said Hill. “When we were choosing, it mostly came down to color and presentation.”

The winner of the people’s choice award was Rainier’s Sugar House. 


Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.