The Elmira Maple Syrup Festival committee has chosen its official producer of the year; however, who that is will remain a secret for now. The winner will be announced at the ceremonial first tapping of the year on February 24.
Meeting in Woolwich council chambers Tuesday morning, a panel of three judges tested entries from 10 producers on four categories, including clarity, density, colour and taste. The three judges included Todd Leuty, a former maple, tree nut and agroforestry specialist for the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs; Jenny Lui, the new holder of that position; and Brian Bainborough, a maple syrup producer and vice-president of North American Maple Syrup Council.
“We tested all the syrups blindly, so we didn’t know whose syrup it was, and then we tasted all the syrup and we gave comments back to all the producers so they can improve,” explained Bainborough.
When it comes to clarity, the judges examine the syrup to ensure it is free of foreign objects. With colour, there are four categories that it is classified in: golden, amber, dark and very dark. Producers in the competition were asked to aim for amber colour.
Density refers to how much sugar there is in the syrup. This is measured in brix, with each brix being about one per cent sugar content. Ideal maple syrup is between 66 and 69 brix.
According to Bainborough, one entry just missed the mark on density.
“There was one that had an excellent flavour, but the density was just a little bit too high. So it didn’t fall inside those maple syrup categories,” he said.
While taste is subjective, the judges have enough experience to make the call, said Greg Bedard, who coordinates the judging for the festival committee.
“They’ve done this thousands of times and tasted thousands of different maple syrups, and they know what amber maple syrup should taste like. And if there’s any flaw in the process, they kind of unpack that flaw. And they can really tell you why maple syrup tastes a certain way based on what might happen during the process,” he said.
The winning entry was a “beautiful syrup,” Bainborough said.
“[It had] a good maple flavour, smooth from the time you tasted it to time you swallowed. It was excellent syrup,” he said.
Along with being named producer of the year, the winning farm will be given access to the prime mall spot on sap fest day and will provide the pancake tent with up to 500 litres of maple syrup. While the goal was to pick a producer of the year, the contest is also done to improve the local maple syrup industry, Bedard said.
“As much as we want to produce at the end, we want to also improve and give back to the community and really help everyone develop high quality maple syrup.”
“It’s education, too, and it makes all the industry better. If you make better syrup, it only helps me.
All of the entries were high quality, Bedard added.
“Just because you finished last or second last, or wherever you finish, it doesn’t mean that that’s a bad maple syrup. It just means we have to score it. And there’s always going to be a winner. The judges make the comment every year that they would buy any of these syrups from any of these producers,” he said.