St. Joseph Island

Sweet Tour of Mountain Maple Products

Sweet Tour of Mountain Maple Products

I was lucky enough to get a personal tour of the Mountain Maple Products Sugar Bush on St. Joseph Island this week, to see first-hand the tree to bottle process of how that delicious liquid gold is produced.

Aimee checks for a leak in the line.
Aimee checks for a leak in the line.

Weather plays a huge part in the quantity and quality of the sap extracted from maple trees.  Warm sunny days in March are ideal to get the sap flowing. Mountain Maple Products owner, Don Manchur says, “You don’t want wind. It’ll shut the flow down right away when the wind gets up.”

Once the weather co-operates and the sap starts moving, a vacuum system helps pull the sap through the lines from the trees to the shack. Checking for leaks in the lines, which will reduce the inches of vacuum, is an ongoing challenge. Don’s daughter Aimee has a trained ear, and can hear the faintest whistling as we walk through the bush and knows there is a leak in the line. I couldn’t hear anything.

Syrup automatically dispensed when it hits the right temperature.
Syrup automatically dispensed when it hits the right temperature.

On our tour we head for the back shack, 1 of 3 buildings on the property that contain vacuums and pumps to collect and move the sap. When we looked into the vacuum tank’s sap extractor, we could see the sap starting to run a bit that afternoon.

The groomed snowmobile trail runs through the sugar bush, and for the first time this year trees on the other side of the trail were accessed. A 16’ high line was run up and over the trail, to allow room for the groomer to pass underneath. The result was an additional 300 trees tapped this season, now totalling around 7200 taps, using about 75% of the Mountain Maple Products' P Line property.

Once we return to the main building, where all of the sap eventually ends up, it is run through a reverse osmosis (RO) system. It takes 40 litres of sap to make 1 litre of syrup, so by using RO 70% of the water content in the sap can be removed, making it much faster and more efficient to boil down into syrup.

Air in the evaporator room is thick and sweet as the sap boils.
Air in the evaporator room is thick and sweet as the sap boils.

Don tells us how a couple of years ago, in the peak of syrup season, he came down with pneumonia. The evaporator they had at the time was very complicated and finicky; only he knew how to work it. They ended up dumping a lot of sap they’d collected, because they were unable to process it that year.

“The first thing I did when I got better, was order a new evaporator”, says Don. It took a year to get the custom built, stainless steel beauty. The new equipment is not fully automated, because Don is still a bit “old school” and likes to be hands on, but easy enough that the others can run it too. It was a big investment, but Don says it should pay for itself in 5 or 6 years, because it’s so much more efficient to run.

After the syrup comes out of the evaporator, it's put through a filter press to get rid of the sugar sand, a fine sediment, which is removed by the 14 paper filters, before it finally gets bottled.

Mountain Maple Products produces a wide variety of maple products.  Maple candy, maple butter and maple sugar are made using a light grade syrup, where the dark, robust syrup produces more flavour in the BBQ sauce and maple salsa.

I got to taste fresh, warm syrup when it came out of the evaporator, and the maple sugar that Don and Sue had made the day before. Both were sweet and delicious, and I left with a bit of a sugar high, which was a great way to end my tour of the sugar bush.

A full selection of Mountain Maple Products are sold from their booth at the Mill Market in Sault Ste. Marie, in Richards Landing at the Island Market, and online at MountainMapleProducts.ca