Category Archives: Marketing

New Consumer Maple Page Launched

On December 7th we launched a new addition to the Ohio Maple Blog. It is called “Its Not Just for Pancakes Anymore.” One of the main reasons for the new addition is to reach out to maple syrup consumers and give them an educational resource dedicated to the use of Maple syrup and maple products. In the first addition we are talking about the new international grading system for maple syrup. Many consumers are use to the old USDA Standard System but what they may not realize is that this system has been replaced. The new system not only grades syrup by color but also by flavor. This takes maple grading to a new level utilizing multiple senses. I also brings it to a level that consumers understand. May of the food product industries employ the sense of sight, taste to define the quality of their products. The maple industry has now reached that level.

In the months ahead we will be exploring the topic of grading and quality assurance on this blog. An understanding of how the process of making maple syrup will affect not only the density, color and flavor will improve the quality of your product.

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Filed under Maple Education, Maple syrup grading, Maple Syrup Quaity, Marketing

Using the New Maple Syrup Grading System as a Marketing Tool

Les Ober

Geauga County OSU Extension

 

Two years ago this Fall the maple syrup industry completed the adoption of a new system for grading syrup. It took a long time to get everyone on the same page to complete the process that was officially started in 2011. The International Maple Syrup Institute took the old USDA Standard grades that included USDA Grade A Light, Medium and Dark and Grade B and transformed them into four Grade A categories that would include all saleable syrup. Two important additions were the flavor descriptors and the Tc (light transparency) range. This allows consumers to compare grades on flavor and it also opened the door for the use of instruments in the grading process for color determination.

The four Grade A categories are Golden Delicate, Amber Rich, Dark Robust and Very Dark Strong. You will find that Golden Delicate parallels the old Light Amber Category. Amber Rich includes all of the old medium and the very top of the Grade A Dark Category. Dark Robust includes the rest of the of the Grade A Dark category and the very Top of the old Grade B Category. The Very Dark Strong Category includes the rest of the syrup that was formally classified as cooking syrup. Most very dark syrup that is produced and does not have an off flavor or a density problem will fall in this category. If syrup has an off flavor or does not meet the above minimum of 66 brix, or the below maximum 68.9 brix density standard it will be sold as commercial syrup and priced accordingly. It should be pointed out that the retail price in most markets does not change for any of the top 3 grades and many producers sell their very dark syrup for the same price.

The new grading system allows us to not only sell syrup on color but also on flavor and after all, flavor is what sells maple syrup. Flavor is a component of maple syrup judging that is very subjective. Everyone has their own idea of what maple syrup should taste like. It is almost unfair to put maple syrup in a jug that has not been graded. It would be like labeling a cut of meat as beef. You as a consumer would be buying the package of meat and not know if it was a Porterhouse Steak or Stew Meat. That type of marketing went out the window with the anticipation of finding out what the prize was in a box of Cracker Jacks. Today’s consumers are getting smarter about what they buy. Why would you try to sell them syrup that could be Very Dark Strong, Golden Delicate or something in-between? If you are just putting syrup in a jug you are missing out on an important part of marketing, interrupting and understanding what the consumer truly wants. You maybe marketing high grade of Golden Delicate syrup when the consumers is looking for a darker more robust flavor. The comment you often hear about Golden Delicate is that it is very sweet with little or no maple flavor. If this were case, do you think you will have a return customer; even though you put what you believe is your best product in the container?

There is however, one caution about selling graded maple syrup; it had better be graded right. That is where spectrophotometry comes in. Today for 60 to 80 dollars you can buy a Hanna Checker. There is also a more accurate and expensive model available for commercial packers, contest and grading fanatics. It is all based on the transmission of a beam of light through the sample. As the product darkens the percent light transmission drops. Once you have a reading you match the %Tc light transmission reading on the device to the %Tc range of one of the new grades. Each grade has a % Tc range. The end results are similar but a lot more reliable than a temporary grading kit. Over the last two months putting, together my maple syrup evaluation programs, I have had a chance to look at dozens of samples of maple syrup, some graded and some not. Many times these samples were so close it would be impossible to grade accurately on a hand held temporary grading kit. This new instrumentation makes it easy to grade syrup. This proves once again that maple syrup production is pure science from start to finish.

Generally overall the new grading system has been well received at various locations where we introduced it to the public. At many fairs and shows we have been able to stimulate conversation about the characteristics of each individual grade. Using sample tasting is a great way to interact with your customers. Generally overall potential consumers liked Amber Rich but more and more are trying and enjoying Dark Robust. This has been a learning experience for both the producer and the consumers alike. Ultimately I think many of the producers end up learning a little more about consumer preferences and the product they are selling. Grading in many states is not mandatory and Ohio is one of them. The other factor here is that consumers are really not familiar with how maple syrup is graded. The only thing they can compare it to is your average table syrup which has no identity. This is where maple producers can take a lesson from the wine and craft beer industry. They have built a whole marketing program around identifying the various characteristics of their product. Is it out of the realm of reality that we might someday include a tasting room in our sugarhouses where potential customers could sample the various grades of syrup and other value added products? Think about it, this could add a whole new dimension to the way we market maple syrup.

If you want to learn more about how you can use the new grading system to improve your marketing and your production practices I will be teaching a 4 hour workshop at the Lake Erie Maple Expo on Friday November 11th in Albion Pa. For more information on the workshop  contact  www.pamaple.org

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Things You Can Do to Ensure the Quality of Your Maple Syrup

 Les Ober
Geauga County
Ohio State University Extension

This post is in response to the article on maple syrup quality written by Dr. Michael Farrell in the last edition of the Maple News. First let me say that the article was not only excellent but very timely. The article addresses an issue that all of us producing maple syrup need to look at as we start a new seasons production. What I hope to do is highlight some of the areas in the production process where quality can be compromised. These are often identified through off flavors. The University of Vermont and the Vermont Ministry of Agriculture have given us an excellent tool for identifying the sources of off flavors in maple, “The Map of Maple; Off –Flavors”. This was also published in the last edition and is also available from the IMSI publications

After producing maple syrup for over 40 years and teaching seminars on maple syrup production for close to 20 years I have made, and have seen others make, most of the common mistakes that lead to off flavors and poor quality. In this article I will go over some, but certainly not all, of the factors that lead to poor quality. Many of which can be controlled by the producers with proper best management practices. The map of Maple: Off Flavors identifies 5 primary areas where off flavors occur; Mother Nature, defoamer, processing, chemicals and others. I want to address each of these, not in order but how they would occur from the start of the season to the end.

When you start out the season you need to be aware of several problem areas that can lead to off- flavors. Most stems from equipment maintenance after the previous season  and going into the new season.  When producers and hobbyist ask how I should clean up my equipment, my response is with a lot of water and elbow grease. Anytime we use chemicals to clean equipment we run the risk of leaving behind residues that can compromise flavor. If we use chemicals on our pans to clean them at the end of the season the chemical residue needs to be thoroughly cleaned out. If we store filters make sure there is no mold on those filters when they come out of storage. If you have mold on your filters, throw them out. Never use detergents to clean filters it will alter the flavor. Finally make sure you store your chemicals in a secure place away from the process of making syrup to avoid unintended contamination of your product. Finally if you use a tubing cleaner make sure it is flushed from the system. If you suspect some cleaner may be left in the lines then let part of the first run go to the ground. Most of the above are common sense but they need to be mentioned.

Probably the biggest culprit when it comes to off-flavor is processing. This is where the majority of the mistakes are made that result in off flavors. When we grade syrup we look at 4 primary areas density, color, clarity, and flavor. Even though each is judged separately they are actually all interrelated. Density affects syrup quality in several ways; first syrup must be 66 brix to meet USDA standards and if it is below 66 brix it can ferment and cause an off flavor. Syrup above 67 brix normally does not have an off flavor but the higher density  can cause crystallization in the bottom of the container and loss of revenue to the producer. As syrup moves across the front pan the density changes rapidly and so does the color. Density changes occur with the rapid removal of water increasing the sugar concentration. Color changes occur as the sugar molecules change due to the introduction of heat. These changes happen very quickly and need to be monitored closely. Anything that interferes with flow of sap through the evaporator can cause the syrup to get darker and possibly cause an off flavor. Many feel that density is the most critical part of the process and at times reaching the proper density can be very illusive. Improper density management can lead to two off flavors that are very common in syrup; fermented and scorched. It can also lead to an unwanted change in color. The additional boiling time can also affect flavor causing an unnatural taste that is not representative of the grade you are processing.

We use three tools to measure density, the hydrometer, the thermometer and the refractometer. All sugarmakers use a hydrometer. Hydrometers should be inspected or checked for possible problems and replaced if suspect. Often the paper with the scale printed on it can slip resulting in the wrong brix reading. The hydrometer can become coated with film resulting in an inaccurate reading. A good hydrometer will give you an accurate reading only if it is used at the right temperature. Temperatures below that require consulting a chart to get the right brix reading for a specific temperature. Maple syrup boils at 7 degrees above the boiling point of water or 219 degrees. Many producers use a thermometer to determine the draw off point. The only problem is that that the 219 reading is only accurate if the barometer is at 29.9 hg barometric pressure. A thermometer needs to be recalibrated every time the barometric pressure rise or falls. This makes a thermometers reliability somewhat suspect. However, syrup temperature is vital when it comes to setting an automatic draw off. The final tool is what many consider the judge and the jury of maple syrup density, the refractometer. What many producers do not realize is that, for a refractometer to work properly, it needs to read a product that is finished and one that is stable in temperature. This was pointed out the other day, when I had a conversation with Robert Crooks of Marcland Instruments. For a refractometer to work properly it has to be able to refract light coming through the sample it can only do that accurately if the sample in the instrument is a clear finished sample. Taking a sample of cloudy unfiltered syrup can lead to an inaccurate reading. The temperature of the product also affects the light refraction. Even though the refractometer is built to automatically compensate for temperature that temperature needs to be stable. If you leave freshly drawn off syrup set in a container it will continue to evaporate water until it cools down. Think of what happens to a roast when you pull it from the oven, it continues to cook. This is why it is recommended that you cover a container with hot unfiltered syrup to stop the loss of moisture.  If you use a refractometer to set the draw off, take the syrup and run it through the filter and collect a sample allowing it to  sit for 15 minutes then take your refractometer reading. This  will give you the most accurate reading from your  refractometer.

If you use a conventional auto draw-off, be aware that it takes time to complete the draw off process. This means that syrup will be drawn off over a range of temperatures. Therefore set the draw off to actuate slightly below the desired temperature and it will finish slightly above. Using a hydrometer is the best way to set your draw off. However, make sure you are reading the hydrometer at the recommended syrup temperature. You can use a refractometer but it has to be used on a finished temperature stable product. This process may take more time than you have to make a correction on the draw-off.

As sap moves across the evaporator temperature gradient sets up. Ninety percent of the water is removed by the time the sap reaches the middle of the front pan. Syrup needs to move from the middle of the syrup pan to the outlet relatively fast. Any interruption with this process that interferes with the temperature gradient and holds the syrup on the pan longer will result in syrup that can be darker and denser than desired. One common mistake is to allow the pans to cool during the firing process. Anytime you cool off the pans the temperature of the sap drops and this causes the boiling temperature to drop resulting in the sap on one side of the gradient to mix with sap on the other gradient. You need to keep a constant heat level on the front pan at all times. This is more critical in a wood fired evaporator.

The other problem is foam control. Excessive foam in the back pan can cause problems with you float and may interfere will your ability to control the level of the sap in the evaporator. If this happens you will need to use a defoamer to control the problem. When using defoamer, the only place the defoamer should be added is at the point where sap enters the rear pan and occasionally a couple of drops if needed, at the draw-off if foam builds up as you are drawing off.  This should be done at regular intervals placing the prescribed number of drops (2 drop per foot of width) where the sap enters the evaporator. Never spray defoamer across the front pan to control foam. Using defoamer in this manner will impede the boil and break down the gradient. This can lead to the dreaded big batch.  If the front pan is foaming excessively, then the foam is not being properly controlled in the back pan, correct the problem back there. Use only small amounts of defoamer, excessive use can result in an off flavor. Organic producers must use safflower or canola oils which are very poor defoamers. Be careful, using an excessive amount of these products can result in an off flavor.

The other problem that can cause scorching in an evaporator is to allow niter to buildup. When niter buildup it will insulates the bottom of the pan from the liquid creating a potential hot spot which can result in a scorched spot on the pan. You need to keep liquid in contact with the pan at all times. Always keep your pans as niter free as possible by rotating sides or using a clean set of pans. Using a good syrup filtering system to remove niter is vital if you want to produce syrup that meets the clarity standard. You should be able to read newspaper print through a sample bottle of syrup that has been properly filtered. Cloudy syrup with a lot of niter can produce an off-flavor. Remember every time you heat your syrup to a boil more niter will precipitate out and it will need to be re-filtered. That is why you do not want to bring your syrup to a boil when canning. 185 degrees Fahrenheit is the required temperature for canning.

As maple producers we fight the growth of bacteria through our entire system. When bacteria colonies multiply within sap they convert sucrose sugar molecules to Glucose and other invert sugar molecules. This increase in invert sugar, when exposed to heat will cause a darker product. This is most prevalent at the end of the season when the bacterial content of sap is at its highest. Bacteria can affect the entire process of making syrup from the tubing system right through canning. Because sap has a sugar content it is a perfect media for bacterial growth. It goes without saying you can never be too clean when it comes to making syrup. Sap needs to be collected in clean equipment, it need to be kept cool and processed quickly. At the beginning of the season if we start with a properly sanitized system we have few problems with bacteria but as the season progresses the problems increase. Maple Producers need to know when to end the season. Producing syrup late in the season when the trees are near budding and the sap is out of condition has little value to you or the industry.  Syrup also needs to be packaged correctly to control bacterial growth in container that can lead to spoilage. That is why we always pack plastic jugs at 185 degrees. This prevents condensation which can supply an environment for bacterial growth in the container.

As you can see there are many areas within the process of making syrup the sugarmaker can have an impact on the quality of the product that is producing. The is attention to detail from equipment sanitation to efficiency of processing is what separates many producers when it comes to product quality. Making the highest quality product possible should be your goal, you reputation as a maple producer depends on it.

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OMPA Receives ODA Specialty Crop Block Grant


The Ohio Department of Agriculture recently approved a Specialty Crop Block Grant to the Ohio Maple Producers Association to better market Ohio maple syrup. The grant writing was spearheaded by Nate Bissell, Dan Brown and Terese Volkmann. Many hours went into this successful project which will benefit all maple syrup producers across the state.

The focus for the use of the grant funds will be, first, for Ohio maple syrup producers to sell more maple products directly to the consumer which will increases producer’s income – make more money. Secondly, it will be to educate the consumer about Ohio’s deep and rich maple history and heritage which will encourage them to purchase more maple products directly from the producers. Finally, being a part of the growing agri-tourism industry which shows people where their food comes from and encourages them to purchase directly from the grower. Agri-tourism also boosts local economies because when people travel they purchase fuel, food, lodging and shop.

This will be accomplished through the Maple Madness Driving Trail in March, creating a MAPLE OHIO MAGAZINE, which will include March maple events across Ohio and other maple related information, and improving the website to have more tour and maple information which producers and consumers will benefit from.

Because of this opportunity, all producers should be marking their calendar now to participate in the 2015 Maple Madness Trail, the biggest and best maple tour in the United States, March 14 & 15, 21 & 22. Encourage other producers in your area to join in. Each year a tremendous amount of calls come in asking where to go in the Columbus – Dayton – Cincinnati region so producers in that area are encouraged to sign up. You do not even have to be making syrup, just be willing to open your sugarhouse and welcome visitors and sell them your maple syrup. You don’t even need a sugarhouse, maybe a garage set up with products to sell and maple displays and information will do the trick.

If opening your location is not practicable but you want to sell more products, purchase an ad in the MAPLE OHIO MAGAZINE. These will be distributed across the state and be something that will be kept for future maple reference. It will get your name and contact information out there so you can sell more maple products.

Tour stop registration forms and advertising information will be sent out in September.

Thanks to the ODA Specialty Crop Block Grant, the Ohio maple industry will be showcased like never before. Every producer in Ohio stands to benefit from this extensive marketing. Be sure to be a part of this opportunity.

In other exciting Ohio maple news, March is about to be officially declared MAPLE MONTH in Ohio. First, the Ohio House of Representatives passed a House Bill stating it, and then the Ohio Senate followed and passed their Ohio Senate bill. The legislation is now awaiting Governor Kasick’s signature to make March Maple Month in Ohio. This was the project of Nate Bissell working with Ohio House Representative John Patterson, Ashtabula County.

Terese Volkmann

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GREAT NEWS FOR OHIO SUGAR MAKERS!

The OMPA officers ( Aggie Sojkja Sperry, Dan Brown, Karl Evans, and Paul Snavely) and Dr. Gary Graham OSU Extension met with Deputy Director Jenelle Mead and Assistant Chief Terri Gerhardt of the Ohio Department of Agriculture to discuss grade law changes to conform to the new USDA maple grade standards. We also discussed input into rules concerning the production of maple products.

The good news is ODA is willing to make the rule change to implement the new grade standards as soon as they are adopted by the USDA. Grading of syrup will remain voluntary in Ohio under the new grade standards.

The great news is ODA has agreed to exempt maple cream as a maple product needing to be produced in an inspected facility. They agreed that maple cream is a form of maple syrup and is exempt under current rules. A letter has been sent to all county health departments and all farmers’ market coordinators informing them of this change. ODA has also agreed to exempt maple sugar under the cottage industry rules but it will take time to get this change implemented.

Gary Graham and Dan Brown will have a copy of the letter concerning maple cream and will forward the letter to any producer wanting a copy for their use.

Dan Brown; President Ohio Maple Producers Association

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