(…trying to put it into a homogenized labeling straightjacket)

A labeling war is brewing over how to classify the variations in maple syrup, all in the name of “standardization” for global marketing purposes.

Maple syrup is a unique, handcrafted natural product extracted from the sugar maple tree. A tree that ranges widely from Canada down to the Mason-Dixon line of the United States, but, is most concentrated in our New England region, and most strongly so in …Vermont… where it is almost a sacred plant.

That wide range is what gives each locality its own particular character to the syrup which is produced there…much like the –terroire- factor relating to a good wine. No two are quite the same, and it’s those differences that create their brand followings for them. Anyone who knows anything about “sugaring” understands that it is not a process that lends itself easily to mass production. It takes a fine bit of –fingerspitzengeful- or “fingertip feeling” as they say in German, to know how best to mark and place a collecting spout and cup on a tree. It also takes a fine touch and careful watch, to slowly boil and render out a syrupy result from the collected tree sap. In short, it is hard labor-intensive  work, under less than pleasant weather conditions, and those of us who’ve ever experienced the process always took great pride in what the quality of that work… produced. But…defining that quality is a matter of…taste…and taste…can’t be homogenized.

Now, as we know, Vermonters have a long standing reputation for being stalwart champions of individuality and maverick inclinations. As far back as the Green Mountain Boys of Revolutionary War fame (some of George Washington’s toughest and favorite troops, but not the easiest he had to command) Vermonters have never been much inclined to being sheep-herded and told how to do anything. When it comes to mulish dispositions about how to do something, Missouri mules might be hard pressed to out-do Vermonters.

There was a time when maple syrup came in a stoneware jug, much like rum or cider. It was either light, medium, or dark, depending on its source. That was it. Folks who loved the stuff (as most of our family did) usually preferred the dark kind because of its stronger flavor. Others, mostly city people, preferred the more wimpish lighter one. Today, trying to find a good dark and strong-flavored variety is almost impossible…unless you are lucky enough to know the owner of a sugar maple grove, who just might feel benign enough to share some of his reserved dark private stock with you. Otherwise…you are stuck with the store-bought stuff…which resembles maple syrup about as much as Budweiser resembles… beer.

So why are they messing with how to label it? Why the need try putting it into a homogenized labeling straightjacket? Apparently because of the dictates of marketing hypsters and gurus  who, without their invented grading classifications, such as Grade A Light Amber, Grade A Medium Amber, etc.,  are at a lost about how to present such a product to potential buyers.

The saddest aspect about this is that Vermonters have allowed their Legislators to go along with this kind of nonsense to mandate such a thing, including fines and sanctions for non-compliance. We hate to think that Vermonters have finally succumbed and become just like the rest of our nation of sheep … to docilely accept their allotted place in an ever more over-regulated democracy.

The best resolution for it all is to just go back to the simplest designations of… light… medium…and dark, that is to say… mild…full…and robust flavored syrup. If the marketeers want to expand on that for their mass market chain store buyers…palm off that light, wimpish, hardly-worth-the-effort stuff to them, and let them put whatever grade A,B,C,D “amber” labeling they choose to put on it…but, otherwise, leave the real stuff alone… for those of us who can appreciate the varieties of taste and textures that come from a handcrafted product!

And let us not overlook the reality of today’s digital world out there. If guys up in Montana can produce fine free-range pure buffalo meat products, and by FedEx, ship it in a plain brown box to you overnight…or…if their neighbors in Maine can ship live lobsters wherever … there’s no reason self-respecting independent producers of real Vermont maple syrup can’t ship a jug of that dark robust variety the same way. Further, by applying a high-end high-value pricing strategy for their product (not available in stores)…they’ll probably get a much better return for their efforts.

C’est la vie!